Plan to keep aged care facilities fire safe

By Dave Hipkins, National Technical and Product Manager with Wormald New Zealand 

Fire safety - aged care facilitiesWith infirm and often immobile residents, and a wide range of intricate medical equipment on site, fire protection in aged care facilities and nursing homes requires careful planning and technical knowledge.

If you’re responsible for managing an aged care facility, you must be fully aware of the fire risks on site and actively work towards minimising those risks.  It’s advisable that you consult a fire protection specialist to help identify the needs and fire hazards specific to your facility.  While preventing a fire may not always be possible, having inadequate or improper fire protection on site can expose residents and staff to dangers, lead to potential injury or in a worst case scenario, loss of life.

Every aged care facility has individual requirements.  Fire protection solutions can be custom designed to match specific needs and budgets and can include a combination of fire protection products, equipment and systems.  For example, a fire protection solution may involve fire detection and occupant warning systems, fire sprinkler systems, fire doors and portable fire equipment such as fire hose reels, fire blankets and fire extinguishers.

It’s critically important that all fire protection systems and equipment are designed and installed in accordance with the relevant legislation and Standards.

Section C/AS3 Acceptable solution for buildings where care or detention is provided (Risk Group SI) of the New Zealand Building Code specifically relates to the fire protection requirements for hospitals, residential care facilities and rest homes and requires that a Type 7 alarm system be installed.  This consists of an automatic sprinkler system together with a fire alarm system and smoke detection system.  Automatic sprinkler systems are widely recognised as one of the most effective defenses a building can have against the threat of fire.

Once fire protection equipment and systems are installed within an aged care facility, they must be regularly serviced and maintained to ensure they are kept in proper working order. Sprinkler systems should be maintained in accordance with either NZ Standard 4515:2009 Fire sprinkler systems for life safety in sleeping occupancies or NZ Standard 4541:2007 Sprinkler systems.  Fire alarm systems need to be maintained in accordance in NZ Standard 4512:2010 Fire detection and alarm systems in buildings.

The Building Act 2004 also requires that buildings containing life safety features such as automatic sprinkler systems or emergency warning systems provide an annual building warrant of fitness (BWOF) which verifies that the systems are in proper working order.  The BWOF is an important part of a building’s safety measures and assures those using the building that the systems are available to perform their designed function as required.  All aged care facilities should have a current BWOF and the systems listed on the Compliance Schedule should accurately reflect what is actually installed within the building.

Having an appropriate fire protection solution is essential but its impact will be limited if building occupants don’t know how to respond in the event of an emergency.  All staff members should be trained in how to use portable fire protection equipment. They must know how to effectively evacuate in the event of an emergency. This is particularly pertinent in aged care facilities as elderly, unwell and immobile residents will require special assistance to evacuate the building safely.

While it may seem overwhelming to keep up-to-date with ever-changing legislation and Standards, fire protection is a vital element of building safety that must not be overlooked.  If you’re unsure of the requirements it’s a good idea to speak with a fire protection specialist.

Note – The Standards and legislation referred to in this blog are specific to New Zealand


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