Fire safety design requirements for schools

Following the Ministry’s Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools means that you, as a board of trustees, will comply with the legislation around fire safety when you do any building work at your school.

Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools

Fires at schools can be stressful for the entire school community.

The requirements for managing fire risk are set out in the Ministry's Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools document ("the fire policy"). On some matters, the Ministry has additional requirements to the Building Code. The fire policy covers building design, fire alarms, use of sprinklers, minimum separation distances between Ministry buildings and maximum allowable firecell size.

You can lessen the fire risk by having buildings that are designed with fire safety in mind. The fire policy tells you how to protect your school from fires. Some of this information is technical. Make sure the consultants you use on the project, such as your project manager, architect and engineer, have a copy of these Requirements. 

The fire policy (including Addendums from July 207 and June 2018) can be downloaded below:

The Addendums are also provided separately and can be accessed below:

What to consider when starting a construction project

When starting a construction project a comprehensive brief on fire issues should be prepared as part of the design and construction brief. It is important that consideration be given to fire safety and protection measures early in a project. This will ensure that the requirements and the costs are fully recognised in the project brief. Those developing the fire brief must not only address the requirements of the Building Code, but also the Ministry's requirements as set out under the fire policy (including the addendums). The brief should consider:

  • building design requirements to support the teaching practice of the school
  • the location of buildings relative to other buildings on site or proximity to boundaries (separation distances)
  • the use or not of sprinklers in the design
  • compartmentation and maximum firecell considerations
  • fire alarm systems
  • evacuation requirements, especially for those with disabilities
  • access for Fire and Emergency New Zealand (FENZ, previously the New Zealand Fire Service), including where water supplies are located
  • the intended use of the building
  • how the building will be certified.

Installing fire alarm systems

Fire alarms are an important life safety and building protection measure. Fires in a Ministry building tend to occur outside school hours and are often associated with arson. Therefore, the minimum fire alarm system to be installed in schools is a Type 4 system (i.e. an automatic smoke detection and alarm system with manual call points) with a direct connection to FENZ.

The alarm systems should comply with New Zealand Standard 4512:2010 (external link)  

Dealing with false alarms

False fire alarms can be a serious issue for some schools. The causes of false alarms can be varied with different responses required accordingly. Avoiding false alarms may require a change in behaviour, a management response, a technical solution or a combination of solutions.

Where false alarms are a regular occurrence, check with the fire alarm provider to identify the cause and potential solutions. Advice may also be sought from local FENZ staff. If the issue persists, specialist advice may be required.

Installing sprinkler systems

The Ministry's fire policy sets out when sprinklers are required to be installed in a school building. Consideration of whether sprinklers are required or recommended should be undertaken early in a project's planning stage as the use of sprinklers can be a significant design consideration for projects.

Developing an evacuation scheme or procedure

All schools needs to have an evacuation procedure or scheme in place to ensure the safe and efficient evacuation of occupants in a fire emergency. The safe evacuation of persons with disabilities to an external place of safety is a critical requirement. The requirements are set out in the Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations 2006 and new regulations that come into effect from 1 July 2018.

Schools with less than 100 occupants or 10 employees

Schools which have less than 100 students and staff should have a fire safety and evacuation procedure in place. The procedure must include:

  • a site plan for the whole school showing assembly points outside the building
  • the escape routes to follow to get to the assembly points
  • maintenance of the escape routes
  • the fire alarms signals to be used at the school
  • details of the firefighting equipment occupants can use.

Schools must place signs and notices at appropriate points across the school so that the evacuation procedure is clear.

Schools with more than 100 students and staff

Schools which have more than 100 students and staff must have a FENZ approved evacuation scheme in place. A school should take time to carefully consider how it will effectively manage an evacuation in a fire emergency, including setting out the specific details for the evacuation of persons with disabilities to an external place of safety.

An evacuation scheme must include:

  • what to do if you discover a fire
  • what to do if you are alerted to a fire
  • where the assembly points are and how to get to them
  • provision for evacuating:
        • members of the public who may be at your school
        • young children, the elderly, and the sick
        • students and others with disabilities
        • residential units.

FENZ approval can be through an online submission process. If assistance is required to fill out the form, contact the local FENZ office to discuss. Once FENZ has approved your evacuation scheme, you must maintain it. You must either hold trial evacuations or run a training programme for your staff at least once every six months. FENZ can send you email reminders (external link)  to complete a trial evacuation or review our training scheme.  

When an evacuation scheme has been approved it remains so unless the school's circumstances change. The Fire Safety and Evacuation of Buildings Regulations set out the changes that may require an evacuation scheme to be resubmitted for approval by FENZ. Schools should be familiar with the requirements. Penalties may be imposed for not maintaining an approved evacuation scheme. Contact FENZ for advice if required. 

Limiting how many people can use the hall at one time

School halls (and other buildings) have a maximum number of people allowed in the building at one time. The number may be on the original compliance schedule or the original fire report. The maximum capacity is calculated based on the:

  • size of the building
  • type of fire alarm
  • number of exits
  • fire rating of the walls.

Schools cannot go beyond this number even if:

  • the school roll is larger than the maximum capacity
  • the hall is hired to an outside group.

Changing the maximum number allowed in the school hall

If there is a desire to increase the maximum number allowed in a hall, a fire engineer can be engaged to re-evaluate the hall’s capacity. The engineer may recommend what can be done to increase the allowable number of people by, for example, upgrading fire alarm systems or increasing the number of exists from the building.

Paying for fire protection

The cost of fire protection, such as sprinklers, fire separation or a fire alarm system, is generally part of the project budget for a new building or alteration.

The Property Maintenance Grant (PMG) funding may be used to pay for the costs of maintaining fire protection systems.

If you’re replacing or upgrading fire protection systems, this may be a capital cost, which can come from your 5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding.

To pay for fire extinguishers, use your furniture and equipment funding.

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