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Fire Extinguishers

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Fire Extinguishers

Fire extinguishers are often thought of as “those red metal things” fixed to a wall or sadly sometimes used as a convenient doorstop! Yet a fire extinguisher is actually a very important piece of lifesaving equipment – in most cases the first piece of equipment that is used in a fire emergency. Therefore it follows that the competent selection, installation and maintenance of them is both essential as well as being a legal requirement. Mts-southwest takes the provision and maintenance of the equipment we supply very seriously, which is why we offer a full range of fire extinguishers.

We recommend and supply the market-leading,  BS EN3 Kitemark approved across the range, which includes water, foam, CO2 and powder models and offers solutions for almost all situations. The internationally recognized BS Kitemark gives assurance of dependable design and manufacture.

  • Kitemarked to BS EN3
  • Tough, corrosion-resistant finish
  • Polyethylene lining to water and foam extinguishers
  • All units come complete with wall mounting bracket
  • Full technical and operational support
  • Full five-year guarantee
  • 35kVa Dielectric Test certification on 6 and 9 litre models

Foam is always an excellent choice for Class A and B fires. The standard 6-litre and 9-litre models have passed the 35kVa Dielectric test and comply fully with BS EN3-7: 2004 Clause 9 – dielectric test for water-based extinguishers.

Fire Alarms

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Fire Alarms

A Summary of the BS 5839-1:2013

BS 5839-1:2013 Fire detection and fire alarm systems for buildings – Part 1: Code of practice for design, installation, commissioning and maintenance of systems in non-domestic premises

The code of practice in the above British Standards Publication has been developed in line with current national building regulations in respect of both new-build and existing non-domestic premises.

This entry level guide to the Standard aims to address some of the main issues concerning fire detection and fire alarm systems, in respect of general and design queries.

Why might I need a fire detection / fire alarm system for my premises?

As noted in the Foreword (pp iv–vi), “national building regulations require fire detection and fire alarm systems to be installed in many buildings at the time of construction. In addition, legislation requires that, where necessary to safeguard relevant persons in case of fire, existing premises are equipped with “appropriate fire detection and fire alarm systems” (p v).

Annex A (pp 134–135) gives a table of various types of non-domestic premises including, inter alia, common places of work (e.g. shops, offices, factories and warehouses), hotels, schools, hospitals, places of assembly (e.g. cinemas, theatres and churches), residential care homes, shopping centres, etc. This is for guidance only, however, and it is important to note that the list is not exhaustive and that any “reference to particular types of premises does not necessarily mean that all such premises are required by law to have such systems installed” (p v).

For any premises, and as a general rule, best practice in fire safety should always begin with a fire risk assessment, which has the additional benefit of determining whether a fire detection / fire alarm system is required and, if so, what type of system should be installed.

What are fire detection and fire alarm systems?

There are many different types of fire detection / fire alarm system, ranging from the most basic, manually operated, stand-alone devices through to highly sophisticated, digitally controlled networks. It all depends on the size and nature of the premises to be protected. In the context of BS 5839-1, which also applies to extensions and alterations to existing systems, “the term fire detection and fire alarm systems includes systems that range from those comprising only one or two manual call points and sounders to complex networked systems that incorporate a large number of automatic fire detectors, manual call points and sounders, connected to numerous inter-communicating control and indicating panels” (p 1).

It should be noted that this part of BS 5839 does not cover systems whose primary function is to extinguish or control fire. Voice alarm systems, systems combining fire alarm functions with non-fire related ones, audible or visual way-guidance systems designed to complement the fire alarm function, and public emergency call systems (999 or 112) also fall outside the remit of this publication.

Pages 3–10 of the Standard contain a useful glossary of relevant terms and definitions, from “addressable system” through to “zone plan”, followed by a commentary on the various categories of system (pp 11–13). Referring once again to Annex A, these categories of system are linked to specific types of premises, so it may be helpful to consider what they actually involve.

What is meant by “categories of system”?

There are three main categories of fire detection and fire alarm system, although it should be noted that these are not mutually exclusive. A comprehensive system installed with the principal objectives of protecting both life and property could incorporate elements from all three categories: M, L and P. In particular, as noted on p 12, when selecting the appropriate category of system for a particular premises: “Even in buildings with comprehensive fire detection, the provision of manual call points will still normally be of great value; people in the vicinity of a fire will normally be… able to raise the alarm by use of a manual call point”, which action could potentially be taken before the fire is detected automatically. The examples of building type for each category are all taken from the table at Annex A.

Category M: manually operated systems with no automatic fire detectors

Examples of the types of buildings that might install category M systems include non-residential places of work, e.g. offices, shops, factories and warehouses, and smaller non-residential places of assembly where members of the public are typically present during opening hours, e.g. cinemas, theatres, restaurants and leisure centres. This is not an exhaustive list and it may be that additional, automated elements have to be added to the fire detection / fire alarm system in order to satisfy specific insurance requirements, such as protecting the business assets and / or protecting against loss of business through fire.

Category L: automatic fire detection and fire alarm systems principally intended for the protection of life. These are divided into five sub-categories:

L1: systems installed throughout a building, to offer the earliest possible warning of fire and thus the longest possible time for all the occupants to escape.

Examples of premises that might adopt L1 systems include those with sleeping accommodation, i.e. hotels, hostels, hospitals and residential care homes, and larger, non-residential places of assembly such as covered shopping malls.

L2 and L3: systems installed only in defined parts of the building. The objective is to ensure that a fire warning is given early enough to enable occupants, “other than possibly those in the room of fire origin”, to escape safely before routes become impassable due to smoke, flames and / or toxic gases. L2 systems have the additional objective of giving early warning in specified areas of high fire hazard / risk, e.g. commercial kitchens and boiler rooms.

Examples of premises for which L2 or L3 systems might be appropriate are the same as for L1. Much will depend on the outcome / recommendations of the fire safety risk assessment, although L3 systems might be particularly suited to larger premises with a phased evacuation policy.

L4: systems installed in those parts of the escape routes comprising circulation areas, e.g. corridors and stairwells

L5: systems in which the protected area(s) and / or the location of detectors is designed to fulfil a specific objective in respect of fire safety other than those covered by categories L1–L4.

Examples of situations in which L4 or L5 systems might be appropriate, frequently coupled with category M elements, include those in which fire could rapidly spread from an unoccupied area of the building and thereby hinder escape from occupied areas. It is important to ensure that automatic fire detectors are positioned such that even cool smoke, which is typical of the early stages of a fire but stays lower to the ground than the hot smoke of a mature blaze, can reach and activate them, such that, for example, magnetic fire door holders are released and the fire doors thereby closed. In other words, these automatic detectors must not be sited so high that the cool smoke passes below them and through the (still open) fire doors. Cool smoke is known as the “silent killer” as it can rapidly overcome the occupants of a building before its presence is even noticed, particularly in premises with sleeping accommodation.

Category P: automatic fire detection and fire alarm systems principally intended for the protection of property. These are sub-divided into the following categories:

P1: systems installed throughout all areas of the building, to offer the earliest possible warning of fire and thus the minimal amount of time between ignition and the arrival of the fire service.

P2: systems installed only in defined parts of the building

Examples of premises that might feature a category P system include those whose property insurer requires automatic fire detection for the policy to be valid. Although, by definition, such systems are geared towards the protection of property and are thus appropriate for unoccupied buildings, in some cases, e.g. if there is a security presence overnight, it may be useful to incorporate some manually operated elements into the system, i.e. M/P1 or M/P2.


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The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 introduced significant changes. As well as simplifying current legislation, it introduced the need for employers, building owners and occupiers to have a greater understanding of fire safety and nominate a “responsible person” to ensure compliance. The responsible person must make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to which relevant persons are exposed. He must identify the general fire precautions needed to comply with the requirements and prohibitions under this Order. Therefore a suitable and sufficient Fire Risk Assessment must include measures in relation to the means of escape from the premises, and measures for securing that, at all times, the means of escape , including alarm call points and any other fire fighting equipment, can be safely and effectively used.

Emergency Lighting


Emergency Lighting

BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266-8:2004 (Emergency escape lighting systems) specifies the minimum provision and testing of emergency lighting for different premises. Additional information on servicing can be found in BS 5266-1: 2011 (Code of practice for the emergency lighting of premises).

The system should include adequate facilities for testing the system condition. These need to be appropriate for the specific site and should be considered as part of the system design. Discussions with the user or system designer should identify the calibre and reliability of staff available to do the testing and the level of difficulty in performing the test.

Discharge tests need to be undertaken outside normal working hours. In buildings that are permanently occupied, the test should be phased so only alternate luminaires are tested.

When automatic testing devices (self-testing emergency lights) are used, the information shall be recorded monthly and annually. For all other systems, the tests shall be carried out as described below and the results recorded.

Regular servicing is essential. The occupier / owner of the premises shall appoint a competent person to supervise servicing of the system. This person shall be given sufficient authority to ensure the carrying out of any work necessary to maintain the system in correct operational mode.

Monthly emergency lighting tests

All emergency lighting systems must be tested monthly. The test is a short functional test in accordance with BS EN 50172:2004 / BS 5266-8:2004.

The period of simulated failure should be sufficient for the purpose of this test while minimising damage to the system components, e.g. lamps. During this period, all luminaires and signs shall be checked to ensure that they are present, clean and functioning correctly.


A test for the full rated duration of the emergency lights (e.g. 3 hours) must be carried out. The emergency lights must still be working at the end of this test.

The result must be recorded and, if failures are detected, these must be remedied as soon as possible

PAT Testing


PAT Testing

Portable appliance testing (PAT) is the term used to describe the examination of electrical appliances and equipment to ensure they are safe to use. Most electrical safety defects can be found by visual examination but some types of defect can only be found by testing. However, it is essential to understand that visual examination is an essential part of the process because some types of electrical safety defect can’t be detected by testing alone.

A relatively brief user check (based upon simple training and perhaps assisted by the use of a brief checklist) can be a very useful part of any electrical maintenance regime. However, more formal visual inspection and testing by a competent person may also be required at appropriate intervals, depending upon the type of equipment and the environment in which it is used.




Safety signs for means of escape.

An accessible environment is one which people not only enter and use safely and independently but one from which they can reach a place of safety in the event of an emergency. Management of egress is essential and should be regularly practised. It is important that procedures are in place to ensure the safe egress of all users. This could include workers, people who are not familiar with the building, people with visual impairments, people with learning difficulties and people with walking difficulties. Therefore all relevant signs must be installed correctly in prominent locations until a place of safety is reached.

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005


The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005

This submission is an overview of the legislation and is described in very general terms consequently it should be read on conjunction with The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005, and the RRO guidance  if a full understanding of the order is required. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order hereafter will be referred to as the Order in this document. The Order should have come into force on the 1st April 2006 but is delayed until the 1st October 2006.

The order is designed to provide a minimum fire safety standard in all non domestic premises including parts of premises used for the purposes of an employer’s undertaking, which is made available to employees as a place of work, and used in connection with the carrying of a trade, business or other undertaking, for profit or not, with a few exceptions. If it is a workplace it designates the employer, if he/she has to some extent control, the Responsible Person.(RP) If any other person has to some extent control then they could have duties under the order. If it is not a workplace then any person having control to some extent or the owner and can be designated the Responsible Person. Those persons or a person acting on their behalf, are required to carry out certain fire safety duties which include ensuring the general fire precautions are satisfactory and conducting a fire risk assessment. If more than five persons are employed it has to be a written assessment.

Safety Checks and Regular Service


Safety Checks and Regular Service

Maintaining the system: what is involved?

No matter how technologically advanced a fire detection and fire alarm system might be with state-of-the-art self-monitoring and automatic fault detection features, there will always be the need for human observation and intervention to ensure its continuous smooth running and optimum performance.

There are three main reasons for routine maintenance and testing:

  1. To identify any faults signalled and take the appropriate action to rectify them;
  2. To ensure there have been no major failures of the system, either as a whole or in part;
  3. To familiarise occupants of the building with the fire alarm signal(s).

As such, it is important for the premises management to institute a schedule of system testing, which can be sub-divided into weekly, monthly and annual routines.

Weekly routine

The Standard makes five detailed recommendations in respect of weekly testing by the user (pp 120–121), which in summary are:

  1. The operation of a manual call point during normal working hours;
  2. This test to be carried out at approximately the same time each week;
  3. Additional tests to be made at least once a month for any employees not usually present during the normal weekly test;
  4. In systems with multiple manual call points, a different one to be tested each week, so that all are eventually included in the schedule of testing over a period of time;
  5. The routine test time should not normally exceed one minute, so that the occupants of the premises can learn to distinguish between this weekly alarm and an actual fire alarm.

In respect of voice alarm systems, the Standard recommends that these are tested weekly in accordance with BS 5839-8.

Monthly routine

The Standard applies two detailed recommendations for monthly testing by the user (p 121), which can be summarised as follows:

  1. If the standby power supply to the system includes an automatically started emergency generator, this should be tested monthly;
  2. If the standby power supply is provided by vented batteries, these should be inspected visually. Furthermore (p 122) all vented batteries and their connections should be examined on a quarterly basis (i.e. every three months) by a person competent in battery installation and maintenance technology.

Inspection and servicing

Over and above the weekly and monthly test routines, it is important for regular inspection and servicing of the system to be carried out, in order to identify and rectify any faults, including false alarm problems, and also to ensure that any changes made to the actual fabric of the building, e.g. extensions, alterations or remedial work, that might have been made in the meantime have not affected the system in any way, either through damage to any of its elements or by impacting on the level of protection it offers. Changes in use and / or occupancy levels of a building can also have a detrimental effect on the protection offered by existing fire protection and fire alarm systems so any such factors must also be taken into consideration during the inspection process. The recommended period between successive inspection and servicing visits should not exceed six months.

Because of the specialist nature of the work, inspections are usually contracted out to a fire alarm service organisation, whose competence can be assured by third-party certification.

Functions included in the periodic inspection and testing of the system include, inter alia, an examination of the logbook, to include follow-up action on any faults recorded, and a visual inspection of all the manual call points, automatic fire detectors and fire alarm devices, with particular regard to any changes in building structure, occupancy levels and / or use, as noted above. Pages 122–123 of the Standard apply detailed recommendations to the various aspects of periodic system inspection and testing, with recommendations in respect of additional tasks that should be carried out annually (pp 123–125). As this is a labour-intensive undertaking, it is noted that some elements of the work can be spread over two or more service visits during each twelve-month period (p 123).

In respect of non-routine attention to the system (pp 126–130), there are several scenarios that can arise and to which the Standard applies detailed recommendations. These range, inter alia, from the appointment of a new servicing organisation (which will necessitate a special inspection of the system) through fault repair and system modifications to inspection and test of the system following any fire.

User’s responsibilities and premises management: who does what?

A fire detection and fire alarm system is designed to protect life and / or property, as discussed in part 1 of this entry-level guide to the Standard. In order to fulfil this function, it is vital that maintenance, inspection and testing of the system are carried out on a regular, scheduled basis.

It is a complex process that can involve several different parties, so the Standard recommends that the system user appoints “a single, named member of the premises management to supervise all matters pertaining to the fire detection and fire alarm system”. This places responsibility firmly in the hands of one individual, whose role is “to ensure that the system is tested and maintained in accordance with the recommendations of (Section 7: Users responsibilities) of BS 5839” (p 131).

These responsibilities include, inter alia: the keeping of appropriate system records and all relevant documentation; ensuring that all relevant occupants of the protected premises are aware of any specific role and / or responsibility assigned them in respect of the fire detection and fire alarm system; and that the system itself is protected from any development that might negatively impact on the standard of protection it offers and / or contribute to the incidence of false alarms.

The logbook is a key document and, as well as the details of the manager / supervisor to whom responsibility for the fire detection and fire alarm system has been delegated, should contain a record of all the events that concern the system, whether these occurrences were scheduled or not (e.g. routine maintenance visits, test signals, fault signals, etc.). This comprehensive information can be valuable to whoever services the system and might also provide evidence of compliance with certain aspects of fire safety legislation, should such need arise