herald

Monday 18 June 2018

Children's hospital was 'designed to avoid fire safety sprinklers by 10cm'

Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the site of the new National Children’s Hospital on Monday. Photo: RollingNews.ie
Health Minister Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the site of the new National Children’s Hospital on Monday. Photo: RollingNews.ie

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

The brigade also reported "major concerns" that regulation controls to tackle smoke from a fire were "not taken into consideration" by the developers, and that current fire safety rules are "outdated", documents obtained by the Herald show.

The files submitted to An Bord Pleanala in relation to an appeal over a fire safety certificate reveal how the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) and DFB spent a year discussing fire protection measures to be installed in the €1bn building.

In May, DFB issued a fire safety certificate subject to four conditions, including a requirement for sprinklers on all floors, to demonstrate a smoke control system in the 17-metre high atrium complied with rules prior to the building being occupied, and to guarantee that glazing would resist fire for an hour.

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

Concerns

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 from a fire and that the developers had deliberately attempted to avoid doing this.

"The top floor of this iconic building is 29.9 metres high, marginally below the threshold of 30 metres, 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.

However, the hospital strongly disagreed.

A report from fire consultants Michael Slattery Associates, dated August 2, said the brigade had "clearly misinterpreted" guidance on sprinkler systems, saying the building was lower than 30 metres "by a significant margin", measuring no more than 26.15 metres.

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

In its decision, the board said the installation of a sprinkler system was required, overturning a recommendation from its inspector that it was not needed.

The Dublin Fire Brigade said it was studying the decision.

The hospital said fire safety measures proposed had exceeded current regulations, but that it would comply with the ruling.

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