Fire safety design

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. The Requirements cover design, fire alarms, emergency exits and sprinklers.

Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools

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

You can lessen the fire risk by having buildings that are designed with fire safety in mind. The Fire and Safety Design Requirements for Schools tell 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 the Requirements.

The Requirements include:

  • how new buildings or alterations need to be designed for fire safety
  • the legal requirements around fire safety
  • the Ministry’s standard specification for fire alarms.

Download requirements and addendum:

Note about addendum (July 2017):

In July 2017 we published an addendum to the Requirements.

The addendum introduces the Enclosing Rectangle Method (ERM) for the calculation of separation distances between buildings on a Ministry of Education school site.

The guidelines in the addendum are effective from July 2017.

What to consider when starting a construction project

Your project manager should contact the New Zealand Fire Service before any design work starts for a new building or alteration. Your project manager should also ensure there is a comprehensive brief on fire issues before the design and construction. The brief must cover:

  • how the building will be certified, for example, by an approved expert
  • the intended use of the building, for example, how any hazardous substances will be stored
  • the building design and its location in relation to other buildings
  • the building services, for example, the heating and ventilation system
  • access for fire services, for example, where water supplies are located.

Installing fire alarm systems

There are typically 4 ways of detecting fire and sounding the alarm.

  1. By people smelling, hearing or seeing smoke or fire and activating the manual call point that is part of a manual alarm system.
  2. Sprinkler systems.
  3. Heat detectors.
  4. Smoke detectors.

The Requirements specify the type and number of alarm systems needed based on things like the type and size of your school.

The alarm systems should comply with New Zealand Standard 4512:2010 (external link) or the Ministry’s School Fire Alarm Specifications (MOE SFA1) [DOC, 268 KB].

Dealing with false alarms

The New Zealand Fire Service can charge you for false alarms.

Always ask your fire alarm provider why false alarms have happened. You can also ask your local fire brigade. If you cannot resolve the issue, then contact your property advisor.

Installing sprinkler systems

Sprinklers minimise damage because they come on one at a time when they reach a certain temperature. Around 75% of fires are put out by a single sprinkler, and 96% are put out by fewer than 4 sprinklers.

The Requirements specify when you need to install sprinklers. However, we encourage schools to install sprinklers when you are doing building work as they limit the loss of resource material and reduce the need for other fire protection systems.

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 buildings in a fire emergency.

Schools with less than 100 occupants or 10 employees

If your school has less than 100 occupants or 10 employees, or is otherwise not a ‘relevant building’ under section 21A of the Fire Service Act 1975 (external link) , you must have an evacuation procedure in place.

Your procedure must include: 

  • the routes to follow to get to assembly points
  • the fire alarm signals to use
  • details of the firefighting equipment occupants can use. 

Place signs and notices at appropriate places around your school that clearly show your evacuation procedure.

You can also choose to develop an evacuation scheme, as set out below, if you wish.

All other schools

All other schools are required to have a New Zealand Fire Service approved evacuation scheme. To find out if your school needs an evacuation scheme, and how to submit it for approval, see the New Zealand Fire Service’s website (external link) . You can download the NZFS Guide to Evacuation Schemes from this website. You can also find more information in the Requirements.

Your 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, the sick and people with disabilities
    • special needs schools and special needs units
    • residential units.

You must also either hold trial evacuations or run a training programme for your staff.

Once the New Zealand Fire Service has approved your evacuation scheme, you must make sure to maintain it. The New Zealand Fire Service can send you email reminders (external link) to complete a trial evacuation or review your training scheme, or you can send reports to your local Fire Service office.

Limiting how many people can use the hall at one time

School halls have a maximum capacity. This is the number of people allowed in the hall at one time. The number is in the original compliance schedule or the original fire report. Ask your local council if you don’t have a copy of these.

The maximum capacity is calculated on the:

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

You cannot go beyond this number even if:

  • your 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 you want to increase the maximum number allowed in your hall, you can have a fire engineer re-evaluate the hall’s capacity. The engineer may recommend what you can do to increase the number, such as adding fire alarms or exits.

Paying for fire protection

The cost of fire protection, like sprinklers or alarms, is generally part of the project budget for a new building or alteration.

Pay for the costs of maintaining the system using your Property Maintenance Grant (PMG) funding.

If you’re replacing or upgrading the system, this may be a capital cost, which will come from your 5 Year Agreement (5YA) funding.

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

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