Solihull Council retrofits over 14000 sprinklers across 37 tower blocks.
Project Fires communications lead, Sara Benaissa, sat down with Steve Murray from Solihull Council to talk about the Solihull sprinkler project that started in 2020, installing an innovative fire sprinkler system in each high rise building and residential homes.
The Solihull Council initiative was a huge retrofit project installing sprinklers into nearly 2000 social housing apartments across Solihull, a positive change since the Grenfell disaster. Nearly 15000 sprinklers have been installed across 37 tower blocks.
HI STEVE, SO COULD YOU INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND WHAT YOUR ROLE IS WITHIN THIS PROJECT?
Yes of course, I work for Solihull Community Housing which is an ALMO, or an arm’s length organisation, linked to Solihull Council. We help the council to better understand and protect their residents in a council area that is one of the biggest in the UK with a diverse range of residents, including the vulnerable. The Council specifically gave us the Solihull Council retrofit project which involved 37 blocs. We needed to ascertain the best way to protect those residents from fire, this included sprinklers, but as part of a larger holistic fire protection system, including cladding, panels and fire alarms.
SO TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE PROJECT AND HOW IT CAME ABOUT?
Well, since the Grenfell tragedy, Solihull Council has been reviewing how they can better protect local residents against fire in the Solihull area. A feasibility report was created in 2018 to confirm without doubt that sprinklers were the best course of action to save lives. One of the reasons the report was commissioned is because there were specific engineering elements to review as the blocks were built in the 60s so the report needed to address if we could actually fit in the sprinklers.
AND I ASSUME YOU GOT THE GO AHEAD, DID EVERYTHING GO TO PLAN?
Yes we did, as we expected the report clearly confirmed sprinkler retrofitting was the best option to fully protect the residents in those high rises. We then created a project plan and started to install the systems in 2020. As fate would have it, during the sprinkler system installation phase the BS 9251 regulations changed and the new BS9251:2021 regulations were put into place. We had two options, either stay with the original project (which we were legally allowed to do) or redesign the entire plan from A-Z so is it becomes compliant with the new 2021 regulations and it is fit for the future.
SO YOU CHOSE TO REDESIGN THE SYSTEM TO BS9251:2021?
Yes, we chose to transform the project, so it was in line with the 2021 regulations. Protecting our residents is always our number one priority and as these regulations are a lot stricter it was logical to go with these to ensure we have done everything possible to ensure residents are fully protected from fire throughout the lifecycle of the 37 towers.
There was actually a substantial cost involved. If you think about the sheer size of the project, for example we needed 7 sprinkler heads per apartment, 2 sprinkler heads per common area. Then if you look at it in a larger sense that’s approximately 390 sprinkler heads installed per block, 14430 sprinkler heads across all 37 blocks with 63700m of CPVC pipework installed across the 37 blocks. There were 24 litre tanks, secondary power supplies to name just a few of the redesigning elements involved.
As resident safety was our number one reason for transforming the project the extra investment was deemed necessary and the project design was approved. What was actually really helpful during this stage was that Project Fire’s automatic testing and remote sprinkler monitoring system helped us to achieve the 2021 compliancy.
One we evolved the system to fully protect our residents we actually become the first council to adapt to the 2021 regulations in the UK.
THAT’S A GREAT EXAMPLE OF TAKING FIRE PROTECTION SERIOUSLY FOR RESIDENTIAL PROPERTIES. HAVE YOU ALREADY RECEIVED POSITIVE RESULTS?
Gosh tons. Firstly, we actually had a kitchen fire a few weeks ago in a property while the resident was in the home. Thanks to Project Fire’s monitoring system, we were immediately alerted that the sprinkler head was activated. The sprinkler put the fire out in seconds, and we were able to ring the fire service and tell them with precision where the fire was located. We got the system running again immediately as we knew exactly which flow-switch had been activated. It’s really impactful when you actually see the system at work, and you know that it has saved a life. We also know Project fire’s system is helping to protect our residents by ensuring the system remains in compliance . With a click of a button we can see every flow switch and control valve is being continually monitored and will be ready in case a fire happens again.
We also received such positive feedback positive feedback from the residents since we retro-fitted the sprinklers. We expected more resistance to change and prepared a huge communication campaign both online and door to door. But we largely received positive feedback. Residents feel more secure in their own homes and they really see now that the council has invested time and funding to ensure their safety. They really saw the fact that we were future proofing the entire neighbourhood and that we were forward thinking in how we would do that across the entire fire protection solution.
In fact, the benefits of retrofitting sprinklers went far beyond fire safety. We were really surprised to find that it also provided huge social responsibility benefits for both our residents and us as a council.
Photo credit: Dave Warren
SO YOUR FIRE SAFETY INITIATIVES ALSO ALLOWED YOU TO ENSURE RESIDENT SAFETY ACROSS THE BOARD?
Yes exactly. We retrofitted resident homes during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic during 2020 and would often spend 3-4 days installing the sprinklers systems which meant we were often a lifeline and the only contact available to them. We were able to identify very quickly other support that the resident might need and contacted the relevant council department who then got immediately in touch with the resident to fully support them. It truly opened up a door, literally and figurately. And that engagement and contact with the residents has revolutionised the way we work and invest in the neighbourhood. We are now fully addressing all aspects of resident safety, whether that is fire, mental health, financial or employment opportunities.
We also wanted to make sure that this project re-invested in the local economy as part of a wider social value objective. So we picked suppliers that are not only innovative and leaders in their field but they also had to be local.
Since project completion, we also applied for Digital Innovation in Fire 2023 Award. We hope that our forward thinking design choices and innovative fire products we installed for the Solihull project will go a long way towards winning the award.
FINGERS CROSSED! SPEAKING OF SUCCESSES WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THE BIGGEST FOR THIS PROJECT?
As I mentioned before, definitely community engagement. We originally thought we would be installing a state of the art sprinkler system to protect our residents and that’s it. Now we understand that fire safety is part of a larger citizen safety piece. And once you connect truly with each resident on one safety element you can join the dots for the others and create a quality place to live where resident feel safe and secure.
The other big success for me was being able to future proof fire safety through the installation of many different fire protection products, including Project Fire’s testing and monitoring system. For residents to be fully protected, sprinklers need to be part of a larger fire protection strategy that complies with the latest regulations and innovations in the industry. Fire safety is a holistic solution, and it is the responsibility of everyone involved to ensure what is provided to residents is compliant and long-lasting.
WE TOTALLY AGREE. AND WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WERE THE LESSONS LEARNT FOR THIS PROJECT THAT WOULD HELP OTHER RESIDENTIAL PROJECTS SUCH AS THIS ONE?
Definitely engage with the community as early as possible. We engaged with them right before the start of the project, but looking back it would have been useful to do it even earlier than that. Mediating between the resident and the fire protection solution was definitely one of the most important roles we had during the project.
I would also say stay open to what the project truly needs and try and achieve that in a realistic way. Always bear in mind that when retrofitting in residential properties there is a huge social responsibility, so resident safety should always be considered number one and everything else comes second.
THANKS STEVE. GLAD TO SEE SOLIHULL COUNCIL IS SO COMMITTED TO ITS RESIDENTS FOR NOT JUST FIRE SAFETY BUT PROTECTING THE COMMUNITY AS A WHOLE. LOOKING FORWARD TO HEARING IF YOU WIN THAT AWARD!
Project Fire is invested in developing solutions for both residential and domestic properties that use the latest fire sprinkler technologies protecting buildings and people from fire. For more information on this project or on the innovative fire protection solutions we’re working on contact us here.