Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Global, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
February 10, 2021

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Futureproofing fire alarm systems – Apollo’s Salvy Vittozzi on Waking Watch replacements and the future of fire safety

Now working with Apollo Fire Detectors – part of the Halma Group – Salvy Vittozzi has over 20 years of experience in the fire sector under his belt. With a background in the design of fire safety systems, IFSEC Global sat down with him to discuss the latest guidance in high-rise residential, the need for clearer legislative input and what lies ahead for the industry.

Salvy Vittozzi, Apollo Fire Detectors

“In terms of legislative impact, the terribly unfortunate Grenfell tragedy is to residential, what King’s Cross was to the commercial market,” says Apollo’s Salvy Vittozzi, as we discuss the breadth of new guidance and legislation being introduced for high-rise residential buildings since Dame Judith Hackitt first published her initial findings on the 2017 disaster.

He is, of course, referring to the dreadful fire that broke out at London’s King’s Cross underground station in 1987, which resulted in 31 deaths and 157 recommendations following a public inquiry by Sir Desmond Fennell. The major difference, Salvy notes, is that Grenfell hasn’t just happened once – and still has the potential to happen again – so preventative measures to ensure such an event doesn’t repeat itself cannot come soon enough.

While the public inquiry to the Grenfell Tower tragedy is ongoing, conclusions and guidance are becoming more formalised. The conclusion of the Fire Safety Bill and Building Safety Bill, expected this year, will aim to enforce stricter procedures and hopefully remove the reliance on interpretations – something that Salvy believes plays too much of a prominent role in decision making processes when designing and assessing building safety.

“Ultimately, too many stakeholders can influence ‘interpretations’ of the guidance,” he explains. “The latest National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) guidance on Stay Put evacuation procedures is the clearest I’ve seen so far, but there is still a little bit of interpretation required on L5 – relating to heat detection in exposed areas.”

Stay Put has been a contentious issue following the revelations of the Grenfell Inquiry, where the strategy was advised to residents. So too, has Waking Watch, whereby suitably trained persons continually patrol floors and the exterior perimeter of a building in order to detect fire, raise the alarm, and carry out the role of evacuation management. While Housing Secretary, Robert Jenrick, recently announced a £30m support package to replace expensive Waking Watch patrols with fire alarm systems, Salvy highlights the need for careful consideration from building managers on how this process is carried out.

“Unfortunately, simply installing a fire alarm system doesn’t always immediately remove the need for Waking Watch – it’s all down to the evacuation policy in each specific building, so all factors should be accounted for upon installation. Some residents may be more vulnerable than others, for instance, so a plan needs to be put in place to deal with these scenarios.

Apollo-HighRiseFlats-21

“We believe it’s also important to think ahead when installing a fire detection and alarm system. Many of these are likely to be temporary systems, in place until the external cladding dangers are remediated, but if a system that is designed in accordance with NFCC guidance to meet BS5839 Part 1 category L5 is installed with futureproofing in mind in the first instance, the building could easily be converted to become a BS5839 Part 6 system or even a system that complies with BS8629. There’s a sustainable benefit there, too, as the existing infrastructure can be kept in place instead of being thrown away.”

This guidance is something Apollo has been working on with its sister company, Advanced. The two have created a dedicated hub on the subject, providing advice for stakeholders – everyone from tenants, through to local councils – on the NFCC guidance relating to a common area fire alarm system, designed to support a simultaneous evacuation alert strategy.

Salvy adds: “While both Apollo and Advanced have the solutions to provide this ongoing protection, such as Apollo’s wireless XPander range of fire detectors, the key motivation behind this is providing the best guidance and best solution possible. We’re keen to talk to any stakeholder in the process, but will always advise parties to speak with fire risk assessors and integrator partners as well. Every building’s needs are different, and the fire protection, prevention and evacuation strategy should always be bespoke to that building.”

With the plethora of information and legislation currently being released by associations and the Government, the guidance is sure to be welcomed by those affected.

A fresh approach

Apollo Fire Detectors has recently launched its Soteria Dimension range of optical fire detectors. Comprising two different EN54-7 approved models, the flush-mounted detectors have been in development for almost a decade and have been refined to protect challenging environments.

The Soteria Dimension Refined model is designed for the high-end residential and commercial market, explains Salvy, with an aesthetically pleasing, white, flush-mounted look said to be perfect for private homes, luxury hotels and designer shops. The Soteria Dimension Secured, on the other hand, has a metal faceplate, specifically designed for vandal-resistant and anti-ligature requirements to protect custodial, mental health and more volatile areas.

Find out more about the Soteria Dimension range.

Looking ahead – What’s next for fire safety?

The incoming legislation set to come into effect this year is likely to dominate the headlines in the fire sector – but what about technology? How is this affecting the industry and helping to improve standards?

“Several topics spring to mind, but I believe remote access to fire alarm panels will continue to improve the service fire engineers are able to provide. With remote monitoring of systems, they can now see a problem before a customer phones, which might make the difference between life and death. The digitisation of installations that’s intertwined with this also ensures there is full transparency of every job, and means everything can be logged and stored online. This will definitely make a change to the commissioning documents being lost about 10 minutes after they were handed over to the responsible persons!”

We also discussed the growing integration of building management systems, and how this can better support fire safety practices such as evacuation procedures. IoT-based fire devices can now be connected to the overall BMS system, paving the way for innovations such as smart signage systems.

“Rather than pointing towards the quickest escape route, smart emergency lighting systems can direct occupants to the safest route, instead. If the BMS system recognises that the pre-defined exit route actually poses a risk due to where the fire has broken out, signage can be altered automatically, using devices such as connected surveillance cameras that are feeding the overall system the crucial information.”

“The limiting factor in all this is standards, unfortunately. The good news is the technology is already there,” concludes Salvy.

As a company, Apollo continues to look ahead at what’s next in the sector and how it can support its customer base. The Apollo Advisor Network was launched in 2020 and is designed to “understand customer needs and deliver systems that keep people safe from fire”, provides the business with external expertise to keep up to date with trends and insight from its customers at the forefront of the industry. And, with plans to create discussion platforms and grow the network further, engagement only looks set to continue.

As Salvy emphasised throughout our discussion, communication and engagement will be key for the future of fire safety. Dame Judith Hackitt picked up on this immediately in her initial report on the Grenfell Tower tragedy, and clear guidance and legislation will remain vital if the sector is to improve standards and provide protection to building occupants.

Find out more from Apollo Fire Detectors.

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