Protecting our History
The recent devastating fire at Clandon House in Surrey has thrown the spotlight once again on how we protect our heritage. It’s a reminder that most historic buildings require special fire detection equipment to protect, not only the building, but the artefacts as well.

Both the Clandon fire – and the blaze that destroyed much of the Glasgow School of Art almost a year before - spread very rapidly from the basement. These buildings were both designed and built decades ago and their construction almost certainly comprised large quantities of timber. Once the fire takes hold in this type of building, it spreads quickly. Fast, effective fire detection and subsequent response are all important in these situations if the loss of the building and contents are to be minimised.

Radio detectors and aspirating detection are just two types of system that can be discreetly installed in listed buildings to provide suitable cover. But these are only any good if someone knows that the system has activated. At night or at the weekend, a telephone link to an ARC (Alarm Receiving Centre) may be the only way of notifying the fire and rescue service that the system has activated.

However, using the latest technology such as SMaRT Web and some inexpensive equipment, it is now possible  for building managers to receive detailed information about the status of their fire alarm system, or the precise location of the alarm activation, on their smartphone or tablet.

Although this doesn’t put the fire out or notify the fire and rescue service, it will alert key staff immediately saving precious time. This early notification could be used to save priceless objects in other parts of the building from possible smoke damage.

The building manager and their fire alarm maintenance company can also receive notifications on their smartphones of any faults in the fire alarm system, enabling them to deal with these immediately. Apart from ensuring that the building is never without a fully-serviced alarm system, receiving precise information on a fault in this way can also save money; an important consideration for the owners of historic buildings where running and maintenance costs can be far greater than for a similar-sized modern building.

An engineer who knows the system well will be able to decide whether the fault needs an immediate response. Of course if the fault is critical, they will need to attend to it straight away, but if it is not urgent and the system is still working, they can decide to wait until they are passing later in the week. This avoids unnecessary overnight or weekend call-outs, which can be expensive. Additionally, the information will ensure that the engineer attends the site with the appropriate parts to resolve the problem, negating the need for two visits to first, investigate and then fix the problem.

Additional benefits include a permanent record of all events that have occurred and the ability to drill in to that data to produce reports confirming whether routine maintenance has been completed or, more importantly, detailing the devices that haven’t been tested. Further reports can be created to show that weekly testing is being carried out and the tests completed using different devices.

Anyone in charge of protecting an historic building will feel a great weight of responsibility, especially when they hear of the fate of buildings such as Clandon House. However, being confident that all tests have been carried out in a timely way can go a long way to providing peace of mind – as well as ensuring compliance with the law.