Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB) – Fire Safety Guidance for Apartment Owners and Operators

Fire safety focuses on the individual; every person has the right to be reasonably safe in and around any building in the event of a fire.

The structure of a building includes the design, construction and use of passive and active fire protection throughout.  Some examples of these are fire door sets, emergency lighting, smoke control systems and fire detection and alarm systems.  The management of a building, or fire safety management, is the systematic organisation and control of the safety of all building users.

The Multi-Unit Developments Act of 2011 which is currently under review, provided for the setting up of an Owners’ Management Company (OMC) for each apartment complex.  It is important that a formal OMC is created for each apartment complex.

Under the Fire Services Act, 1981 & 2003, in the context of apartment buildings the persons in control/owners of the building are collectively all the apartment owners, who are represented by the management company and the management board, the OMC.  The OMC would be considered as the persons in control of the building and therefore, responsible for fire safety in the apartment building.  Any enforcement action carried out by DFB would be directed against the OMC or persons in control of an apartment building.  The OMC should ensure that active systems are maintained and passive fire safety elements are kept in good repair to ensure that the fire safety design and strategy of the apartment building is in place.

Not all buildings are structurally the same and the efficiency of building management varies, but nonetheless, both must combine to afford all building occupants the reasonable level of safety as set out in the Fire Services Act, 1981 & 2003.

Section 18: General obligations with respect to fire safety

18(2) ‘It shall be the duty of every person having control over premises to which this section applies to –
a) take all reasonable measures to guard against the outbreak of fire on such premises,
b) provide reasonable fire safety measures for such premises and prepare and provide appropriate fire safety procedures for ensuring the safety of persons on such premises,
c) ensure that the fire safety measures and procedures referred to in paragraph (b) are applied at all times, and
d) ensure as far as is reasonably practicable the safety of persons on the premises in the event of an outbreak of fire whether such outbreak has occurred or not.’

18(3) ‘It shall be the duty of every person, being on premises to which this section applies, to conduct himself in such a way as to ensure that as far as is reasonably practicable any person on the premises is not exposed to danger from fire as a consequence of any act or omission of his.

For example, a building owner would normally be expected to ensure that the fire safety of the premises is adequate.  A person hiring this building for a period would normally be expected ensure fire safety in the operation of the premises, i.e. to prevent overcrowding, to check that the fire exits are unlocked and clear, and that any materials do not present a fire hazard.

However, the lease or contract between the parties should clearly identify where responsibility lies and for what aspects.  The allocation of responsibility for management of fire safety (including maintenance of the premises, maintenance of active fire safety systems such as fire detection and alarm systems, emergency lighting systems, evacuation procedures, etc.) should be clear between all parties involved.

Where the person having control requires advice on the provisions for fire safety, or when considering any building works that may impact fire safety in the building, they should engage suitably qualified competent person(s) with appropriate qualifications and experience, such as:

  • Registered Architects that are on the register maintained by the RIAI under Part 3 of the Building Control Act 2007,
  • Building Surveyors that are on the register maintained by the SCSI under Part 5 of the Building Control Act 2007,
  • Chartered Engineers on the register maintained by Engineers Ireland under section 7 of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland (Charter Amendment) Act 1969, or,
  • Members of the Institution of Fire Engineers who hold the title Chartered Engineer.

While fire safety on premises is the responsibility of the person having control, fire services have powers of inspection, and may take enforcement action where necessary to deal with unsatisfactory provision for fire safety on premises.

Enforcement powers range from:

  • provision of advice in relation to fire safety,
  • service of notice requiring steps to be taken in relation to fire safety on premises,
  • service of notice requiring closure of premises,
  • seeking an order of the High Court, prohibiting or restricting use of premises, or part thereof.

While we have extensive powers as explained, we are mindful of the impact of our actions and cost to homeowners, our focus is on safety, risk mitigation and improving the safety of the building.  DFB continue to work and engage with stakeholders in this regard. We will however use our powers, if warranted, to minimise risk to owners/occupiers.

The Fire Services Act, 1981 & 2003 also provides for penalties for contravention of Part III of the Acts, of regulations made under the Acts, or of notices to which the Acts apply.  Penalties on conviction can include fines of up to €130,000 and/or imprisonment for up to two years.

Further information is contained in ‘Fire Safety Guide for Apartment Owners and Operators – Guide for persons having control under Section 18(2) of the Fire Services Acts 1981 and 2003’, which is currently in draft format and is available to view or download from the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage website.

This draft code of practice has been developed as a result of the recommendations contained in ‘Fire Safety in Ireland (2018) – Report of the Fire Safety Task Force, following the tragic Grenfell Tower fire in London in 2017.  The guide will be of assistance to building owners and operators in providing guidance and advice on the range of duties with respect to fire safety.

Additional fire safety information is available from each Fire Authority website, an example of which can be found on Dublin City Council’s website here.

Fire Prevention Section, Dublin Fire Brigade, June 2022