Fire chiefs publish guidance for reviewing new high-rise building designs

The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has published a new paper to support fire and rescue services when reviewing the design of new high-rise residential buildings.

Entitled ‘Provision of multiple routes for evacuation of residential buildings – NFCC Opinion Paper’, the document takes into account new government rules expected to come into effect in July 2024, stipulating the need for a second staircase in new residential buildings that are above 18 metres.

However, as NFCC notes, such guidelines for an additional means of escape from the government are currently absent. Thus, this paper has been put together “in lieu of any official statutory or operational guidance being provided by the Government or the new Building Safety Regulator”.

As the NFCC explains, “NFCC and individual FRSs are regularly being asked for opinion on the protection and purpose of multiple stairways, the requirement for evacuation lifts in tall residential buildings, and how the related design and management should be developed. This paper provides that opinion from NFCC to enable a consistent approach for FRS (in England) to adopt.

The paper outlines three principal objectives:

  • Objective 1: Stairways should be independent from each other, such that a single fire cannot impact on multiple escape routes.
  • Objective 2: Safe egress should be provided for all building users, including those who either would not be able to, or would find it difficult to descend stairs
  • Objective 3: Resilience and flexibility are provided for firefighting. This should include appropriate access and facilities, with sufficient resilience and redundancy in the design.

Through these key objectives, the body aims to “highlight areas that FRS should request that building designers take into account for means of escape and firefighting in new blocks of flats”.

As previously reported by the FPA, the NFCC has long supported the idea of additional staircases in high-rise residential buildings, as “in the event of a fire, a correctly designed second staircase removes the risk of a single point of failure, buying critical time for firefighting activities, and providing residents with multiple escape routes”.

In July 2023, Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities, Michael Gove announced that a second staircase would be required in new residential buildings that were 18 metres and above in height. A 30-month grace period was also later introduced for developers and building designers who had already submitted planning applications for new residential high-rises.

Chair of NFCC’s Protection Committee, Gavin Tomlinson said: “We want to be sure these buildings are safe places to live and NFCC is committed to supporting fire and rescue services as they take on these new checks.

We are expecting Government to issue new guidance shortly, but we have a clear view of what we think are the key priorities for fire and rescue colleagues when reviewing the design of new high-rise buildings.

What we’re proposing is common sense, such as making sure that stairways are independent from one another so that a fire does not impact on multiple exit routes, making sure there are safe routes of escape for people with additional needs, and ensuring firefighters have the appropriate access and facilities. This is what we are advocating for in our discussions with partners in government.”

You can access and download the paper here.