Upholding fire safety standards: lessons from a recent fire curtain survey

At a £1bn office building in a prominent location in the City of London, one of our technical consultants recently conducted a site survey on a number of BS 8524 fire curtains. His objective: to assess the performance of the installed fire curtains. What he discovered was not only alarming but also highlighted the critical need to maintain fire safety standards.

Identifying the issues

Our inspection revealed concerning lapses in fire safety measures and the performance of installed BS 8524 fire curtains. Two different manufacturers’ fire curtains were fitted into the premises. Some of the concerns our survey flagged included:

  • Missing and damaged smoke seals: whilst the fire curtains installed only use cold smoke seals1 and rubber draft excluders which would only work if the smoke is cold, a number of these vital components were either missing or damaged, rendering the curtains ineffective even for cold smoke (BS 8524 fire curtains all come with smoke seals that don’t work for hot smoke and gases).
  • Broken fixtures: Critical elements meant to secure the fire curtain fabric were fractured, hindering swift deployment during emergencies.
  • Untested practices: Perhaps most concerning was the discovery of unconventional methods employed in the installation process. Paint lids, of all things, were repurposed as makeshift packers within the curtain guides—an egregious addition from a company with BS 8524-2 code of practice for installation.

Paint pot lid used as a packer for the fire curtain side guide.

Urgent need for action

These deficiencies pose significant risks to occupants and property as the fire curtains could not be reliably counted on to deploy in the event of a fire. It is also a significant risk to the Responsible Person as they cannot currently demonstrate compliance with their legal obligations under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 [FSO 2005] which states that life safety products must be “maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair”. If they do not have a weekly record log of successfully tested fire curtains how would they demonstrate they were in good working order prior to a fire?

Insights from the field

These revelations underscore the importance of prioritising quality and product design in fire safety solutions and life safety products.

Compliance vs. design: While adherence to standards is essential, it is akin to insurance for a car; without it you wouldn’t drive the car but it isn’t the basis for car selection. Product design that prioritises effectiveness and reliability is key.

Hierarchy of considerations: Procurement decisions should follow a structured approach, placing legal compliance and third-party certification as table stakes at the forefront, before considering the aspects of design, quality, and service that will ultimately be experienced on site.

Broken smoke seals in the side guides

Charting a path forward

This experience highlights the profound responsibility of fire curtain manufacturers to provide products that work reliably in real life as opposed to passing a laboratory test as required in the standards but failing in the real life weekly tests. At Adexon Fire & Smoke Curtains, our mission is to improve the performance of fire curtains in real life.