Friday 18 October 2019

Children's Hospital 'deliberately designed to avoid installing sprinklers' - claims fire brigade

Building 'just 10cm short' of height requiring safety system

An artist’s impression of the new National Children’s Hospital
An artist’s impression of the new National Children’s Hospital
Paul Melia

Paul Melia

The National Children's Hospital was "deliberately" designed to be 10cm lower than 30m so it could avoid having to install a sprinkler system, Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) has claimed.

The brigade also said that "major concerns" around whether controls to tackle smoke in the event of a fire were compliant with regulations were "not taken into consideration" by the developers, and that current fire safety rules were "outdated", documents obtained by the Irish Independent show.

Submitted to An Bord Pleanála in relation to an appeal over a fire safety certificate, the records reveal how the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) and DFB spent 12 months discussing fire protection measures to be installed in the €1bn building.

In May this year, DFB issued a fire safety certificate subject to four conditions including a requirement to install a sprinkler system on all floors; to demonstrate that a smoke control system in the 17m-high atrium was compliant with the rules prior to the building being occupied, and to guarantee that glazing would resist fire for 60 minutes.

The NPHDB appealed the conditions, and yesterday the board ordered the installation of sprinklers across all floors of the hospital, adding that if a Christmas tree was erected in the atrium, it must be artificial, no taller than 2.5m and be fire retardant.

If the atrium of the hospital underwent a change of design, a new assessment of how smoke was vented from the building would be required, it added.

The correspondence sets out a range of concerns from DFB which it claims the NPHDB did not address. The fire officer's report from June 29 said "major concerns" around the smoke control ventilation system were "not taken into consideration or adequately addressed" by the developers.

It said installation of sprinklers would provide more time to evacuate in the event of a fire, and claimed the developers had deliberately attempted to avoid doing this.

"The top floor of this iconic building is 29.9m high, marginally below the threshold of 30m, which prescribes an automatic requirement for life safety sprinklers," the report said. "It appears that the building has been re-engineered to deliberately avoid an essential life safety system given the fact that the top floor is just 100mm below the threshold for sprinklers."

It also claimed that provision of sprinkler systems would be required in hospitals under proposed changes of building regulations due next year.

But the hospital vehemently disagreed.

A report from fire consultants Michael Slattery Associates said the brigade had "clearly misinterpreted" guidance on sprinkler systems, saying the building was lower than 30m "by a significant margin", measuring no more than 26.15m.

It added that a suggestion that sprinklers would be included in the revised building codes due to be published next year, "is surprising, to say the least".

"The writer [Michael Slattery] is a member of the specialist advisory group advising the department" on the revisions, the letter said, "and no consideration is being given to extending the current requirement for sprinklers in hospitals not exceeding 30m."

In its decision, the board said the installation of a sprinkler system was required, overturning a recommendation from its inspector. DFB said it was studying the decision. The hospital said it would comply with the decision.

Irish Independent

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