Fire Compartment

A fire compartment is part of a building constructed to provide a physical fire-resisting barrier to prevent the spread of fire and smoke to or from another part of the building. A compartment can be further sub-divided into sub-compartments to aid progressive evacuation. Where residents are dependent on staff assistance in the event of a fire and the evacuation strategy is progressive evacuation, the building should be divided into different fire-resisting compartments or sub-compartments by fire-resisting doors, walls and floors. This restricts the number of residents who would be at immediate risk in the event of a fire occurring and allows their evacuation, as a first stage, to an adjoining compartment or sub-compartment. Fire-resistance of compartment walls, floors and doors at least 60 minutes, or in premises with only medium and/or low dependency residents were no residents are sleeping above the ground floor, at least 30 minutes and Fire-resistance of sub-compartment walls and doors at least 30 minutes. 

Evacuation Strategy

Where the evacuation strategy is progressive evacuation, compartments and sub-compartments should have sufficient space to accommodate the additional persons who may be evacuated into these areas temporarily. One of two recognised evacuation strategies may be appropriate for the premises, either Immediate Evacuation or Progressive Evacuation. The strategy adopted will depend principally on the dependency of residents, the number of staff available to assist with evacuation and the layout and construction of the premises.

Immediate evacuation describes a situation where, upon discovery of a fire and a warning being given, the emergency fire action plan involves immediate evacuation of the whole building.

Progressive evacuation is evacuation in a controlled sequence, with those within the building who are at greatest risk being evacuated directly to another part of the building through a fire door(s) into another sub-compartment within the building where, for a time, they would be relatively safe from the effects of fire in its initial stages. This movement would normally be to a separate sub-compartment on the same floor if the premises layout and the location of the fire allowed this option.

Phase 1: Evacuation from the room/area of origin of the fire.

Phase 2: Evacuation to a place of relative safety.

Phase 3: Evacuation of parts of the building.

Phase 4: Total evacuation of the building.

Phases 1 and 2 involve a horizontal movement away from the immediate danger of the fire and limited vertical movement. Phases 3 and 4 involve horizontal movement and vertical movement in the case of upper storeys. Vertical movement will be by way of protected stairways from upper floors, to a place of safety outside the building. 

Guidance on Fire Compliance for Designated Centres 2016 (HIQA)

The provider should strive to achieve evacuation of any given compartment (see ‘Compartmentation’) within the centre in 2min 30seconds.

Detailed information on compartmentation is beyond the scope of this guidance. Compartmentation and building design generally should be determined by reference to appropriate technical guidance by a competent person with the input of the relevant fire and building control authority as appropriate.

Fire Safety Risk Assessment Residential Care Premises (HM Government)

It should be possible under normal operating conditions to evacuate any given protected area in 2½ minutes using the staff present to assist residents, where necessary. You should aim to evacuate all occupants from a protected area (sub-compartment) to a place of reasonable or total safety within 2½ minutes of the alarm being raised. Staff training and pre-planning should assist to minimise the time to react to the alarm so as to maximise the time available to assist residents to evacuate. In situations where residents of poor mobility are to be physically moved by staff, you must ensure that the staff have received the appropriate training to do so. If evacuation aids or equipment is provided for this purpose, staff should be trained to deploy and utilise them as quickly and efficiently with as little distress to the resident as possible. Determination of acceptable escape times depends on all of the above, and no single factor should be considered in isolation. The ability of staff to conduct an evacuation of each protected area within 2½ minutes of the alarm being raised is a starting point upon which to make an assessment. Extended escape time may be able to be dealt with by careful adjustment to the above factors.

Fire Services Act 1981 (as amended by Part 3 of the Licensing of Indoor Events Act 2003)

There is no reference to a 2½ minute evacuation time in either the Fire Services Act, the Building Control Act or the Departments published guidance “Guide to Fire Safety in Existing Nursing Homes and Similar Type Premises”. It should be noted that where premises are in accordance with the Departments Nursing Home Guidance, they are deemed to be complying with their obligations under the Fire Services Act.

The evacuation of residents when a fire occurs is the responsibility of staff and not the Fire and Rescue Service, the role of which is to tackle the fire, and rescue residents only if the predefined evacuation strategy has failed.

Paddy McDonnell