Fire safety design requirements for schools
Information, advice and resources for schools for maintaining fire safety, including developing evacuation procedures and evacuation schemes.
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Following the Ministry’s Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools means that you, as a board, will comply with the Ministry’s requirements around fire safety when you do any building work at your school.
- Fire and safety design requirements for schools
- Summary of the Ministry's fire policy
- What to consider when starting a construction project
- Developing an evacuation procedure or scheme
- Maintaining the approved status of your scheme
- Limiting how many people can use the school hall at one time
- Paying for fire protection
- Fire alarm monitoring
- Further information
Fires at schools can be stressful for the entire school community.
However, 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. The requirements for managing fire risk are set out in the Ministry's Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools document (“the fire policy”).
The fire policy (including Addendums from July 2017 and June 2018) can be downloaded at: Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools (including Addendums from July 2017 and June 2018 [PDF, 692 KB]
The Addendums are also provided separately and can be accessed below:
On some matters, the Ministry has additional requirements which are above the Building Code. The fire policy covers building design, fire alarm systems, use of sprinklers, minimum separation distances between Ministry buildings and maximum allowable firecell size.
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 the fire policy which sets out the Ministry’s requirements in full.
Below is a summary of the major requirements under the Ministry fire policy which are above the Building Code.
Fire detection and alarms systems
For all new buildings and existing buildings undergoing refurbishment, the Ministry’s minimum requirement is for Type 4 (automatic smoke) alarm systems to be installed which is analogue addressable, connected to a single central panel, and is connected directly to FENZ. Type 3 (heat detectors) may be installed where appropriate. The alarm systems should comply with New Zealand Standard 4512:2021(external link).
This is required as most school fires start outside school hours making standalone Type 2 (manual call points) ineffective from a property protection perspective. The aim of the policy is to achieve the earliest detection of fire and the fastest possible response from fire services 24/7 to protect your school.
To support this aim, the Ministry requires that the fire alarm system must always be the lead system. Smoke detectors (or heat detectors where appropriate) must always be part of the fire alarm system and must be the primary system. Detectors connected to a security system (SSWS) as the primary source of detection are no longer recognised by the Ministry as a compliant method of achieving life and property protection. These systems should be redesigned or replaced to meet the Ministry’s requirements.
Compartmentation – Maximum firecell size
The maximum firecell size for any Ministry building is 800m2 (unless sprinklered). Where buildings are larger than 800m2 they must have a firewall installed every 800m2 to achieve the Ministry’s requirement. See the fire policy for the full requirements including exceptions for halls and gyms.
Installing sprinkler systems
Sprinklers are required in buildings that are above 2400m2 in area or have escape heights above 10 metres irrespective of area.
The Ministry requires that all sprinkler systems, where installed, are to be type 7 (sprinklers with Type 4 automatic smoke detection and manual call points) and must be directly connected to FENZ.
Safe separation distances between buildings on a Ministry site
The Ministry requires that there are adequate safe separation distances between buildings on a Ministry site so that fire cannot spread from one building to another. This can be achieved by distance, achieving the required Fire Resistance Rating based on the Enclosing Rectangle Formula (ERM).
See the fire policy for more details on each aspect.
When starting a construction project, a comprehensive brief on fire issues should be prepared as part of the design and construction brief.
The fire policy applies to both new schools or buildings and existing buildings being upgraded or refurbished. For existing buildings, the Ministry approach is to upgrade fire systems to the Ministry’s requirements in conjunction with other refurbishment work being undertaken on a building.
It’s important that consideration be given to fire safety and property protection measures early in a project. This will ensure that the requirements and the costs are fully recognised in the project brief.
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. Installation of sprinklers may provide more design flexibility and in addition to the requirements under the fire policy should be considered where use of Ministry buildings for sleeping will be an important part of the school's curriculum or culture.
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 intended use of the building.
- The location of buildings relative to other buildings on site or proximity to boundaries (safe separation distances).
- Fire alarm systems.
- The use or not of sprinklers in the design.
- Compartmentation and maximum firecell considerations.
- 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 requirements for an evacuation procedure and evacuation scheme are set out in the Fire and Emergency New Zealand (Fire Safety, Evacuation Procedures, and Evacuation Schemes) Regulations 2018 (the Regulations). You can access the regulations here(external link). The safe evacuation of persons with disabilities to an external place of safety is a critical requirement.
What you need to do
All schools must comply with Part 1 of the Regulations by having fire evacuation procedures in place as outlined in the Regulations. Evacuation procedures outline the sequence of events that will lead to the occupants of a building being evacuated safely, promptly and efficiently. Some schools may refer to these as an evacuation plan. Evacuation procedures do not need to be approved by FENZ, but a copy must be available if requested by FENZ.
Schools with 100 or more students or 10 or more staff will also need to comply with Part 2 of the Regulations and have an evacuation scheme approved by FENZ. The criteria and requirements for compliance with Part 2 under the Regulations are set out below. An evacuation scheme contains the procedure/plan as per Part 1 of the Regulations but also requires additional information covering the fire protection systems in your school.
For example, a small school with 2 classrooms, 30 students and 4 staff would only have to comply with Part 1 of the regulations. A larger school with a block of adjoining classrooms or a hall that is used to hold 100 people would need to comply with both Part 1 and Part 2 of the Regulations.
Complying with Part 1 of the Regulations – Evacuation procedures
To comply with Part 1 of the Regulations you must ensure that you have procedures in place that meet the following requirements:
Means of escape
- The means of escape (exit doors, hallways, stairs, etc) must be kept clear of all obstacles at all times. They must not be used to store items or for the accumulation of waste or rubbish. The exit doors must be unlocked and free of barriers to enable a quick and safe evacuation at all times.
- Smoke control and fire doors must be kept closed unless they are kept open in a way that complies with the building code. Doors that are held open but which automatically close when the fire alarm sounds are acceptable. However, door wedges that must be manually removed are not acceptable.
- Flammable materials must not be stored along means of escape or fire egress ways. Such materials should also be stored in secure containers with close fitting lids.
- An evacuation procedure must be in place that allows all occupants (including those with disabilities requiring particular assistance) to be able to evacuate to a place of safety when the fire alarm sounds and in the case of a fire.
The evacuation procedure must be summarised on clear, distinct and legible signs that meet the requirements of the regulations. The matters that must be summarised on the signs are:
- The routes of travel to the place(s) of safety. In a small building the signs might be standard throughout. However, in larger buildings/school blocks the content of each sign should be tailored to the location of the sign.
- A description of the fire alarm signals/method of alerting people of a fire.
- Any firefighting equipment available – if it is installed.
- The provisions for any people requiring assistance to evacuate.
- How to alert FENZ.
Information and training of students and staff
- All occupants of the building must be informed of the evacuation procedure.
- All occupants must follow the evacuation procedure in the case of a fire or when alerted to a fire, for example if the fire alarm sounds.
- A sufficient number of employees of the school must be trained to effectively manage the evacuation of all occupants of the school including those with disabilities.
Schools must take reasonable steps to prevent fire
Reasonable precautions must be taken to prevent a fire and include doing the following:
- Electrical, gas or flammable liquid powered appliances and their fuel/energy sources must be properly constructed, maintained, secured and protected in a manner to prevent a fire starting.
- No fire may be lit within a building unless it is in a properly constructed fireplace with a properly constructed chimney.
- The packing or unpacking of goods in flammable packaging must be carried out in an area clear of the general public, clear of any lighting or heating devices and away from areas directly connected to stairways, lifts or other openings between floors not protected from the spread of fire.
- A building or part of a building primarily used to store flammable materials must be appropriately located so that any fire cannot spread to the rest of the building.
- Flammable materials (including waste) must not be stored outside a building in a way that creates a fire hazard.
- Any handheld firefighting equipment that is installed must be maintained in accordance with NZS 4503:2005. For state schools the Building Warrant of Fitness (BWoF) provider (Currently Argest Technical Services) will identify if this is not the case.
You have a responsibility to ensure all of the above matters are maintained on an ongoing basis and your procedures should cover all these requirements.
There is no requirement for your procedures under Part 1 of the Regulations to be approved by FENZ. However, your school may be required to provide evidence that you have procedures should FENZ request it.
Complying with Part 2 of the Regulations
Part 2 of the Regulations requires a school to have an approved evacuation scheme if they meet one or more of the following criteria:
- Have 100 or more students.
- Have 10 or more staff.
- Provide sleeping accommodation for more than 5 persons.
- Store hazardous substances in quantities exceeding the prescribed minimum amounts (e.g., pool chemicals).
- Have an early childhood education and care centre. Note that a fully detached early childhood centre with its own alarm system (not integrated with the school's alarm system) would require a separate evacuation scheme.
- The Ministry requires that all state schools have a compliant evacuation scheme even where buildings are sprinklered.
Your school should take time to carefully consider how you 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, and residential units.
Your evacuation scheme must be approved by FENZ
FENZ approval can be through an online submission process. The process of applying for an evacuation scheme requires you to complete an application which will formally record the evacuation procedures and the fire safety systems that you have in place.
To apply online visit FENZ(external link). If you have a RealMe login you can simply log in using that and begin the application process by selecting the ‘Apply for a new online evacuation scheme’ button. If you do not have a RealMe login, from the online services homepage select ‘Create an account’. You should set up an account in your school's name. When you insert the name of your school, please put the prefix 'MOE' in front of your school name, e.g. MOE-(Name of school).
You will also require some knowledge of the fire systems at your school. Some information will need to be entered on screen and other information may need to be uploaded. You should ensure that you have all the information for your school before you start the process.
To help in determining the information that you will need you should download the following example documents from the FENZ website and collate the equivalent information for your school before you commence your online application.
In addition, you will need to upload copies of the following documents and we recommend that you prepare them in advance of starting your online application. Some of these will be part of your evacuation procedures. The information needed includes:
- Evacuation procedures.
- Means of Escape plan.
- Copies of signage and notices.
- List of hazardous chemicals if held in sufficient quantities (science lab but also pool chemicals).
- Building occupancy data (The occupancy numbers can be provided by Argest: TeamMOE@argest.com.
If assistance is required to fill out the form, contact your local FENZ office to discuss.
Once FENZ has approved your evacuation scheme, you must maintain it by doing the following:
- Hold trial evacuations every 6 months.
- Ensure that you have adequately trained staff to manage an evacuation and make a 6 monthly assessment of their preparedness to manage an evacuation.
- Advise FENZ of the outcomes of your trial evacuations. This is important as if you do not advise FENZ then your approval may lapse.
- FENZ can send you email reminders to complete a trial evacuation or review your training scheme through Maintain Your Schemes(external link).
When an evacuation scheme has been approved it remains approved unless the school’s circumstances change, or you persistently fail to notify trial evacuations. The regulations set out the changes in circumstances that may require an evacuation scheme to be resubmitted for approval by FENZ. These range from a significant increase in the roll over that previously advised in your scheme, additional buildings on site, changes to existing buildings that impact total occupancy, fire systems or egress routes. Schools should be familiar with the requirements.
Penalties may be imposed for not maintaining an approved evacuation scheme. Contact FENZ for advice if required or refer to the Evacuation Scheme FAQs(external link) on the FENZ website.
If your school does not have an existing evacuation scheme in place and has 100 or more students or 10 or more staff, you must comply immediately and in full with the requirements under the 2018 Regulations.
Schools with an existing scheme
Evacuation schemes are not automatically required to be reapproved each year. They remain approved provided you undertake and notify FENZ of the results of your trial evacuations on a 6 monthly basis. If your school renews its evacuation scheme, you may need to provide FENZ with the information set out above under Complying with Part 2 of the Regulations. The circumstances requiring renewal are set out in the Regulations but can include where your school:
- Has had a significant increase in roll.
- Has undertaken refurbishment of existing buildings or added new buildings on site.
- Has undertaken changes that affect fire exit routes or fire detection and alarms systems.
- Made changes in your procedures, which could be in response to school property changes.
If changes have been made to the school property, you should complete the FENZ Notification of Building Changes form(external link). Talk to your local FENZ office for assistance.
Nominated contact persons
Your school should have a nominated contact person for FENZ to contact and keep those contact details up to date. We recommend that your school use generic contact details such as a position and monitored email box. However, phone contact details must be kept up to date if not that of the school. Arrangements should be made over holiday periods or other times when schools are closed, for FENZ to be able to readily contact the school, if required. Schools must advise the Fire Information Unit (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the dates affected and the alternative contact person’s phone details and/or email.
If you are a new school, you will not have an approved evacuation scheme in place. To comply with Part 2 of the Regulations, a new school (that has 100 or more students, or 10 or more staff) must apply for an approved evacuation scheme to FENZ. This must be done before you occupy the school but no more than 30 days before you occupy the school. Schools requiring an evacuation scheme can still open even if the application has not been approved, provided its application for approval of its scheme has been submitted within the prescribed timeframes. Schools can complete the application online via the FENZ website.
Code of Compliance Certificate (CCC) from a Building Consent Authority or Territorial Authority is a separate process and is not required to apply for or receive approval of your FENZ approved evacuation scheme. Similarly, a school's FENZ approved evacuation scheme is not a substitute for a CCC.
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. If not, contact Argest: TeamMOE@argest.com.
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 make recommendations as to what can be done to increase the allowable number of people by, for example, upgrading fire alarm systems or increasing the number of exits from the building.
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, alteration or refurbishment.
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 for state schools. The fire policy sets out specific locations where fire extinguishers are required.
Dealing with false alarms
The causes of false alarms can be varied with different responses required accordingly. In some cases, false alarms may occur where there are multiple fire alarm panels across a school site instead of one central fire alarm panel.
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.
Avoiding false alarms may require a change in behaviour, a management response, a technical solution or a combination of solutions.
Fire alarm monitoring ensures that when there is a fire at your school, FENZ and your fire protection service provider is automatically alerted. As a result of this alert, your service provider can check the site and reset the systems once the cause for the call out has been investigated and resolved. Your school will be charged for the visit by your fire protection service provider to reset the fire protection system. There is no call out charge by FENZ even when it is a false alarm. You should, however, seek to avoid false alarms as it causes disruption to school and diverts FENZ resources.
Ministry funded fire alarm monitoring
The Ministry has a contract in place through their Building Warrant of Fitness Compliance Manager, Argest, with ADT Fire Monitoring New Zealand (ADTFM) for the supply of fire alarm monitoring services at state schools. Your school pays for the initial connection cost and the Ministry pays for the ongoing monitoring costs.
If you are not already signed up to this service, contact Argest for more information, and to confirm if you are eligible and how to apply.
Phone: 0800 274 378
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