Can I enclose an existing fire panel behind a door?

This week seems to be full of questions which have needed a bit of research in order for me to respond... Here is the hot question today...

Hi Russ,

I have an existing building with a fire panel, connected to the fire brigade and an emergency warning & Intercommunication system (EWIS) located in the foyer on the ground floor. The panels are hidden behind a set of labelled bi-fold doors.

We would like to enclose this space for use as a small office and keep the fire panels in the same location.

What codes and standards apply and can this be achieved?

Thanks.

J.

Thanks for your question Jessica, It turns out that that there are four documents which are necessary in order to respond to your request;

  • Building Regulations 2006 (Vic)
  • Building Code of Australia (BCA)
  • Australian Standard AS1670 - Fire detection, warning, control and intercom systems
    • Part 1 - System design, installation and commissioning
    • Part 4 - Sound systems and intercom systems for emergency purposes

What Australian Standards say...

Lets start with the installation requirements for fire panels, found in AS1670.1:

3.9 FIRE INDICATOR PANEL
3.9.1 General
For systems connected to a fire dispatch centre, the fire indicator panel shall be clearly visible and readily accessible within the designated building entry point or the fire control room. The designated building entry point shall be at the main entry to the building unless an alternative entry, that is acceptable to the firefighting service is used.

For systems not connected to a fire dispatch centre, the FIP shall be in a secure position and be clearly visible and readily accessible for the authorized person or persons.

Required visual indicators and controls shall be not less than 750 mm or more than 1850 mm from the floor.

3.9.2 Covering door
Where the fire indicator panel is obscured by a door, then that door shall be marked in a contrasting colour to the general colour scheme with the words ?FIRE PANEL? in letters not less than 50 mm high. There shall be no other lettering on the door. The door shall not be lockable.

Where the door reduces the CIE sounder sound level below the CIE requirement, means shall be provided to give the required sound level outside the covering door.

One of the keys to the intent of the standard writers can be found in clause 3.9.1 which says For systems connected to a fire dispatch centre, the fire indicator panel shall be clearly visible and readily accessible within the designated building entry point or the fire control room.

Australian Standard AS1670.4 provides additional requirements for emergency warning & intercommunication systems however the location is simply required to be in an approved location1.

Given the brief, it now appears we are building a fire control room because the fire alarm system is not clearly visible from the the designated building entry point.

A fire control room is the domain of the Building Code of Australia and possibly the Building Regulations (Vic) where the deemed to satisfy provisions are not met.

What the Building Code of Australia says...

So far we have determined that AS1670.1 requires a fire panel to be clearly visible and readily accessible.. Because of the brief, we have now determined the new room should be considered a fire control room. The BCA dedicates an entire specification (E1.8) to how these room should be constructed to satisfy the Deemed-To-Satisfy (DTS) provisions.

Specification E1.8 - Fire Control Centres
1. Scope
This Specification describes the construction and content of required fire control centres and rooms. A fire control room is a fire control centre in a dedicated room with additional specific requirements. Clauses 2 to 5 apply to fire control centres (including fire control rooms).

Clauses 6 to 12 apply additional requirements to fire control rooms.

2. Purpose and content
A fire control centre must?

  1. provide an area from which fire-fighting operations or other emergency procedures can be directed or controlled; and
  2. contain controls, panels, telephones, furniture, equipment and the like associated with the required fire services in the building; and
  3. not be used for any purpose other than the control of?
    1. fire-fighting activities; and
    2. other measures concerning the occupant safety or security.

    Specification E1.8 goes on to outline the very specific requirements for the construction of the fire control room including fire resistance, protection of openings, door sizes, ventilation and power supply for a fire control room, signs and lighting requirements.

    The bottom line - the DTS provisions are onerous, and largely exist for the protection and safety of emergency services personnel who may attend an emergency.

    Another alternative open for consideration is the alternative solution which will require the approval of the Chief Officer which is outlined in Regulation 309.

    What the Building Regulations Say...

    Where a DTS option is not available, then the Regulations do provide a mechanism for an alternative solution which must be reviewed and approved by the Chief Officer as outlined in Regulation 309:

    Building Regulations 2006 - SECT 309

    309. Requirements for permits involving fire safety matters

    1. The report and consent of the chief officer must be obtained to an application for a building permit which involves any of the following fire safety matters if those matters do not meet the deemed-to-satisfy provisions of the BCA-
      1. fire hydrants;
      2. fire hose reels;
      3. fire control centres or fire control rooms;
      4. fire precautions during construction;
      5. fire mains;
      6. control valves;
      7. booster assemblies;
      8. emergency vehicle access;
      9. fire indicator panels;
      10. proscenium curtain drencher systems;
      11. fire services controls in passenger lift cars.
    2. In a report under subregulation (1), the chief officer may consent to a variation of the requirements of the BCA if the chief officer is satisfied that a satisfactory degree of fire safety is achieved.
    3. When a building permit is issued which involves the installation of fire sprinklers and the installation does not meet the deemed-to-satisfy provisions of the BCA the relevant building surveyor must forward details of the installation to the chief officer.

    Summary...

    What appears to have been a routine request has turned out to be a journey down the rabbit hole like "Alice in Wonderland" with twists and turns every where.

    Based on the facts available, the small project may turn out to be quite an expensive exercise.

    My best advice is to check with your favourite building surveyor and see if they have any suggestions, perhaps I have missed something.

    I hope I have answered your question!

    Russ

    • 1. Australian Standard AS1670.4:2004 Clause 2.1.1, Indicator Panels - Location
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