Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Hochiki Europe is the perfect match for Birmingham City FC
Published:  28 June, 2011

Thousands of people attend the various football matches that take place each week across the length and breadth of the UK. As its popularity has increased, attendances have risen and today’s football stadiums are modern, comfortable spaces where people of all ages gather to support their teams.

Pre-match preparation

With so many people in a relatively small space, safety is a top priority for every club and a number of high profile disasters over the years have given rise to strict legislation about how grounds manage their life safety infrastructures.

1985 saw one of the biggest disasters in modern football history when 56 people died and more than 265 others were injured when fire broke out in the stands during a game between Bradford City and Lincoln City at Bradford’s Valley Parade ground. It is believed the fire started when a spectator dropped a match or a lit cigarette, which fell through holes in the stand to rubbish that had accumulated below.

The inquiry into the disaster, known as the Popplewell Inquiry, led to the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at football grounds. One of the main recommendations was the greater need for effective fire detection and evacuation strategies and it is an area that Birmingham City FC pays close attention to.

A league above

After achieving promotion in the 2008-09 season Birmingham City are currently locking horns with the country’s best clubs in the Premiership, and its 30,000 capacity St Andrew’s stadium sees high attendances for each game.

St Andrew’s first opened in 1906 and since then has been through many changes. One further change occurred recently when the club appointed Birmingham based Argus Services to install a new fire detection system from Hochiki Europe to protect staff, players and supporters from the dangers of fire.

Promotion challenge

Argus Services is a fire detection, access control and security specialist and has vast experience in this area, having worked with a number of different football clubs. The company’s Managing Director Jerry Matthews, says, ‘We’ve looked after Birmingham City’s fire detection requirements since 1999. Its old system was proving to be a problem due to unwanted alarms, so rather than keep trying to repair obsolete equipment we advised that the only real solution was to install a new system.’

The previous system was over 13 years old and pre-dated Argus Services’ involvement with the club, however, the existing wiring was still in good condition so Argus suggested replacing only the products themselves. It also recommended networking the system in order to give it additional capacity if the club should ever need it.

Jerry adds, ‘Having worked with Hochiki for many years we knew that their products would be perfect for this installation. I particularly like the fact that the company does not accept product failures. While some other manufacturers think that anything up to a three per cent failure rate is acceptable, Hochiki doesn’t.’

Top of the table

The work required the installation of a BS5839 compliant Category L4 addressable fire detection system based around Hochiki’s Enhanced Systems Protocol (ESP). A Category L4 system is one in which detectors are only installed within escape routes.

ESP is a total communications solution for intelligent fire detection and fully integrated systems. It has a multi-purpose structure that provides the flexibility and expansion to accommodate simple addressable systems through to sophisticated integrated building management and safety systems.

Team talk

A wide variety of Hochiki products were installed including 84 call points, 59 base sounders, 33 sounder controllers, 25 mains relay output units and 45 multi-sensors.  321 Hochiki optical smoke sensors were also used, featuring the company’s High Performance Chamber Technology.  Hochiki’s chamber design minimises the differences in sensitivity experienced in flaming and smouldering fires. The result is a high performance optical chamber that is equally responsive to all smoke types and helps to reduce the possibility of unwanted alarms.

Jerry comments, ‘As football grounds tend to be unoccupied for large periods of time, their fire detection products have to be able to withstand and operate under a variety of conditions. The system at St Andrew’s has been programmed with two modes – match day and non-match day. On match days there are no active sounders and the voice evacuation system is operated at these times.’

Out in front

Staff at St Andrew’s were so used to the unwanted alarms caused by the previous system that they had become the norm. The obvious danger was that if people simply assumed that an alarm is unwanted then they would start to ignore them.

Final whistle

The new system has proved a real winner and the club is delighted with it. Peter Smith is Birmingham City FC’s Stadium Manager and concludes, ‘The new system has made a real difference to our day-to-day operations. No longer do we have to experience the disruption caused by unwanted alarms and we know that our staff, visitors and supporters have the best possible protection.’