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Portcullis House: Fire Alarms

Volume 487: debated on Wednesday 28 January 2009

To ask the hon. Member for North Devon, representing the House of Commons Commission on how many occasions since 1 January 2008 Portcullis House has been evacuated for fire-related reasons; on how many of these occasions a fire was discovered; and what steps the Commission is taking to minimise the number of false alarms. (250745)

From 1 January 2008 to 21 January 2009 there were five evacuations from Portcullis House. None were actual fires. They were caused by:

4 March 2008: Technical fault on system—addressed by the fire alarm engineers;

19 August 2008: Operation of manual call point by persons unknown;

26 November 2008: Beam detector actuated by fitting of the Christmas lights in the atrium when on one occasion contractors failed to follow correct process—contractors reprimanded and reminded of correct process;

8 January 2009: Technical fault resulting in actuation of newly installed fire detection camera by art handling activity interfering with beam—camera adjusted to recognise such movements and not activate the alarm; and

20 January 2009: Detector actuated by fumes from cooking; technical fault on alarm system re-set resulted in evacuation alarm activation—fire alarm engineers are investigating the reason the system would not accept the re-set.

To minimise disruption to the occupants, a system is operated in Portcullis House whereby upon actuation of smoke/beam/video smoke detectors outside the atrium, the parliamentary fire section has 15 minutes to identify and resolve an incident before the evacuation alarm is automatically activated. Three of the five evacuations in the last 12 months were triggered because it was not possible during the 15 minutes to verify that the building was safe. On the other two occasions, operation of a manual call point and the interruption of a beam detector in the atrium automatically triggered an evacuation. In order to minimise the number of unwanted alarms, a full fire incident investigation is carried out by the parliamentary fire section, fire safety manager and London fire brigade after every incident to establish the cause of the incident and to identify the person(s) responsible. Key personnel involved in the alarm activation are interviewed and remedial action taken. In the case of technical faults, the fire alarm engineers are called to site to investigate and take remedial action. Fire safety training is regularly reviewed and revised to address trends in activation of fire alarms.