An unwarranted trepidation surrounds conservationists, developers and architects when it comes to fire safety and security installations and spoiling the character of historic buildings, leaving hundreds of thousands across Britain increasingly vulnerable in the case of a fire. 

This dangerous pattern has continued to persist in the UK despite numerous articles plaguing the news this year alone regarding historic dwelling fires, including a piece headlined “historic Baloch hotel Woodbank House listed as a ruin” in the Scottish Daily Record. Steve Emery, chair to the Institute of Fire Engineers and fire advisor for Historic England, has claimed that many building owners use a building’s listed status itself as a reason for not installing appropriate fire protection methods, in spite of existing regulations. This apprehension is however largely misguided; for example, research suggests that many are reluctant to install sprinklers due to concern that this will increase the likelihood of flooding, when in reality, there are very few cases where this eventuality has materialised. 

Despite efforts to avoid fire safety measures, a sufficient fire risk assessment is required for all premises other than private dwellings; in fact, for historic buildings reports propose it is of paramount importance that a well-structured, properly implemented fire safety management plan accompanies a fire risk assessment.

The essential components of a fire risk assessment and fire safety plan for historic buildings can be broken down into four key steps, to be implemented by the owner and/or relevant body. The experts at Knightsbridge Fire and Security, a London-based firm specialising in fire alarm, CCTV and electrical installations and maintenance describe these in more detail, having worked with historic dwellings previously:

1. Preparation: 

Before undertaking a fire risk assessment, accurate building plans should be attained. This will save time and effort in the long term, and can be useful when developing business continuity plans, inventories of artefacts, cleaning regimes and security assessments.

2. Prevention: 

Of course, the best method of protection is prevention; this can be achieved by physically assessing the risk of a fire in the form of a detailed fire risk assessment. More specifically, identifying likely ignition sources and flammable materials enhances safety as these may be removed and/or replaced by alternative methods of storage. 

There are several relevant questions to consider when considering fire prevention with a historic building, including; 

- When were the electrical circuits last tested and have all appliances both fixed and portable been tested for safety?

- Are all flammable materials an appropriate distance from potential ignition sources?

- Is there a significant risk of arson, and can this be deterred?

3. Protection:

Protective measures, despite controversy, must be implemented in order to safeguard occupants, the property, important artefacts and visitors. It is recommended that a third party with experience conducting installations in historic buildings is sourced for this; they will recognise the importance of maintaining a listed building’s delicate history and fine detail while providing appropriate protection systems.

4. Management: 

Once the fire risk assessment has been completed and suitable protective measures are in place, a fire system management plan must be developed, including; maintenance schedules, regular staff training and emergency drills.

Lee Reid, Managing Director at Knightsbridge Fire and Security states, “Every commercial property needs fire security systems but when it comes to these kind of buildings, a client requires a bespoke service and high specification equipment.

It is vital to consider the positioning of the fire alarms in a listed building to ensure you are in-keeping with the style and interior design, while guaranteeing the alarms allow for total coverage throughout the building, rather than just areas of high-risk. In terms of aesthetics, we chose to opt against fire beams which can look unsightly, and instead decide to use more integrated systems to provide a completely bespoke installation for historical premises. Ongoing maintenance of these systems is also of crucial importance”

Should you require further assistance with your fire assessment requirements or fire security maintenance, contact Knightsbridge Fire & Security at 02070 995 552, or 1st Floor, 239 Kensington High Street, London, W8 6SN.




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