The 2017 Grenfell tragedy brought to light a number of fire safety issues in residential high-rise buildings. From December 2018, in line with Government Advice, all buildings over 18m had to be assessed for combustable material in their external walls. In January 2020, Advice for Building Owners of Multi-storey, Multi-occupied Residential Buildings was published advising “the need to assess and manage the risk of external fire spread applies to buildings of any height.”

If combustable materials are found present during a Form EWS1: External Wall Fire Review, the cladding must be removed and additional temporary fire safety measures must be put in place to ensure occupants are protected. The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has advised that the Stay Put policy must be replaced by a simultaneous evacuation strategy until the cladding has been remediated and either a 24/7 Waking Watch or a common Fire Detection Alarm system must be installed.

What are the benefits of a Fire Alarm System?

Cost effective – According to the NFCC, a fire alarm system when designed, installed and maintained effectively, is a more reliable and cost-effective way to maintain a sufficient level of early detection.

24/7 Fire Detection – Fire detection and alarm systems provide continuous cover for a whole building, monitoring for fire every second and alerting residents as early as possible.

Quick Installation + Minimal Disruption – Fire detection and alarm systems can be installed quickly and efficiently with minimal damage to existing structures and disruption to residents.

Waking Watch vs Fire Alarm Systems

A Waking Watch surveillance system can be set up very quickly, however given the average duration of remedial work to rectify cladding issues, the costs mount up hugely. According to a recent study by The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, the cost of employing people to undertake Waking Watch duties exceeds the average cost of installing a state-of-the-art fire detection system in just 3 to 7 months, depending on the hourly rate charged.

If cladding removal is expected to take longer than 12-months, the NFCC strongly recommends that a fire alarm system is installed rather than relying on Waking Watch.

What is Waking Watch?

Waking Watch was introduced by the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) as a temporary measure to keep residents safe in the wake of the Grenfell tradgedy. Waking Watch is the term coined for trained fire wardens to be present on site 24/7 to monitor the interior and exterior of the building, raise the alarm in the event of a fire and help with the safe evacuation of residents.

Is funding available for building owners?

The Government announced a new fund to help pay for the installation of fire alarms in high-rise buildings with dangerous cladding, the Waking Watch Relief Fund, and has urged building owners to apply for the Building Safety FUN (BSF).

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