By Dave Hipkins, national technical and product manager at Wormald New Zealand
Fire is a very real risk for New Zealand schools. According to the New Zealand Fire Service, there were 427 fires in education buildings between 2007 and 2011*.
Along with posing a risk to the safety of students and staff, a fire can have costly consequences. The economic cost of fires in education facilities totalled $33.7 million dollars between 2007 and 2011, with each fire incident costing an average of $78,936*.
Executive officers face a myriad of decisions when procuring fire protection systems, including considerations around funding, equipment, providers, maintenance contracts and costs.
It is important to approach these decisions with a big picture mentality, by considering the school’s unique fire protection requirements to ensure a suitable fire protection solution is installed.
Conduct a detailed fire risk assessment
Conducting an assessment to identify fire hazards is an important first step for procuring a fire protection solution that adequately meets the needs of the school. A fire hazard assessment is not a DIY job. Executive officers are encouraged to consult a reputable fire protection specialist with experience in the education sector to conduct an assessment.
It is also important to be familiar with common fire hazards around the school. These will vary depending on the facility but may include electrical equipment, kitchen or heating appliances in canteens or staff rooms, chemicals in student laboratories or combustible waste material such as paper recycling bins. Fire escape routes should remain clear at all times.
Selecting fire protection equipment
Selecting a fire protection solution is a significant decision for an executive officer and cutting corners to save on costs is not recommended. Poor quality equipment may require ongoing maintenance or replacement, resulting in unexpected costs in the longer term.
Schools undertaking a new build or refurbishment should commission a fire engineer to undertake a fire report. This report will be the blueprint for the installation of a fire protection system, and will include details on the type of system and the standard to which it should be installed to.
A broad range of fire protection equipment is available, from basic fire extinguishers or hose reels, to passive fire solutions or advanced fire detection and suppression systems. It is important to pay careful attention to quality, suitability and warranty details when selecting fire protection equipment and consider how new fire protection systems may integrate into existing ones.
Be familiar with legal requirements
Though a fire protection specialist can provide advice on legal requirements, compliance is ultimately the responsibility of the school. Executive officers should consider all relevant legislative requirements and standards when procuring a fire protection solution. These include the Ministry of Education guidelines for Fire Safety and Design, the Building Code of New Zealand and the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations. Section C/AS4 Acceptable solution for buildings with public access and educational facilities (Risk Group CA) of the Building Code of New Zealand specifically relates to fire protection requirements for education facilities, including fire systems, means of escape and prevention of fire.
Consult the experts
A fire protection specialist can provide professional advice, assistance with mandatory fire audits and a comprehensive maintenance and testing service. They can also ensure the building complies with the strict standards, regulations and reporting requirements surrounding fire protection.
Wormald is responsible for servicing fire protection equipment and systems at over 2,200 of New Zealand’s government owned schools. For more information, visit www.wormald.co.nz or call 08004 WORMALD (9676 253).