Campus Wireless Fire Protection

Campus Wireless Fire Protection


By Ken Bullock, Business Development Director for EMS Group

Ken Bullock, Business Development Director at EMS Group, one of the UK’s leading fire detection technology companies, looks at how wireless fire systems are today at the cutting edge of fire safety and how they can significantly benefit Further Education Institutions in protecting their students, staff, buildings and facilities and at a lower cost than traditional hardwired systems

Over the last decade we have witnessed significant developments in fire safety innovation. The science of saving lives and tackling fires in colleges and schools has also been greatly refined. However, as an industry it is in fire detection and prevention where we have gained the most ground, particularly in wireless fire detection.

Experience suggests many Facilities and Site Managers in the education sector are unaware of the following compelling benefits of a wireless system:

Cost Reductions – Wireless systems are easier, quicker and less expensive to install than hardwired systems.

More Flexible – Wireless systems can be adapted to a building or room’s changing use no matter how frequent. They are also ideal where there are hazardous materials, such as asbestos.

Minimum Disruption – Wireless systems can be installed quickly out of term time or even during evenings and weekends, meaning no disruption to staff or students. Maintenance and servicing can again be completed at a time to suit.

Hindsight – Installing traditional hard wired systems can, at the start of a project, look attractive in terms of initial costs, yet with hindsight this invariably proves to be a far more expensive option when installation, maintenance and upgrades are taken fully into account.

Expansion – Wireless systems can be moved and modified at will, can be bolted onto existing systems and new buildings can be added to the coverage.

Hazardous Materials Avoidance – By virtue of their nature, wireless systems avoid the need to interfere with hazardous materials in ageing public buildings. Materials such as asbestos are rife in legacy educational buildings and present massive health and safety issues for pupils, staff and also contractors. Its presence can also add significant cost to hardwired system installations.


As a member of the Fire Industry Association and as Business Development Director for EMS, one of the UK’s leading fire technology companies, I have witnessed firsthand how detecting and preventing fires in educational premises consistently remains a hot topic. I would suggest this is never more so than today following seismic economic and political changes.

Even in this climate of strictly enforced safety legislation, fire protection is one of the most critical issues college heads, principals, chancellors and governors are responsible for. As with any public or private organisation, they are held personally responsible for ensuring adequate protection for human life, facilities and accommodation.

As heads of public organisations I am sure they are all too aware of how fire offers no second chances and they themselves share in the liability. Large sums of money can unnecessarily be thrown at traditional fire solutions that later proved to be poorly thought through and carry higher longer term costs.

The positive statistics (see Did You Know?) concerning human life are clearly attributable to far greater legislative pressure to ensure adequate fire systems are in place. It is often overlooked that great attention should be given to protecting the valuable buildings, infrastructure and sites that are costly to rebuild. I mention sites as there are a large number of educational building projects taking place each year, which themselves may not be covered from the initial construction stage.

In these economically challenging times we have already seen significant cutbacks to planned capital investment programmes that were aimed at modernising educational buildings throughout the country. In many cases this has been in preference to lower cost refurbishments to ageing but often more challenging buildings.

This has meant that many colleges and schools have had to call back contractors to re-plan almost every area of their capital investment projects, as well as their maintenance budgets, to see where savings can be made. In many cases, evaluating suitable and affordable fire protection has become a vital component part.

From an industry perspective, the 2005 Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order required all employers including universities and colleges in England and Wales, to implement fire risk assessments, rather than receive inspections from fire authorities. However, I share many experts concerns that too many employers in further and higher education may not have experienced people available to fulfill safety duties to make the right purchase decisions.

In most cases, because of these pressures, wireless fire systems have become the most viable solution, being cheap and quick to install during short holidays, flexible yet comparable to more expensive hardwired systems.


Colleges, Universities and Schools present a unique challenge for fire detection. In protecting human life alone it is hard to think of another public environment where there is such a sudden density of people, let alone young people, requiring the highest protection levels.

Today, the sheer financial and investment values of these institutions, including high value contents and technical infrastructure, make these sites unacceptable losses to preventable fires.

Throughout my career I have been involved with hundreds of projects looking at fire protection for educational premises. Each site is unique but there are common challenges they often face:

Span of PremisesMany sites have multiple interlinked buildings, each requiring protection
Scale of PremisesThere are often inherent complexities with protecting multi-storey buildings
Legacy PremisesMany older buildings contain hazardous materials such as asbestos
Upgraded PremisesFollowing funding cuts, many premises are being upgraded not rebuilt
Demanding PremisesInstallers need to be able to install and maintain fire detection systems with minimal disruption, quickly and cost-effectively, all out of term time

Did You Know?

Across the UK’s 31,000 educational premises, major fires and injuries have become relatively rare – one in twenty premises experience fires every year – yet minor incidents are still common.

Although one major fire destroyed a research centre at Southampton University in 2005, according to the latest government fire statistics, in 2007 of the 413 further education institutions and 1,052 schools there were no fatalities but 35 non-fatal injuries.

Source: Fire Statistics, United Kingdom 2007, (28 August 2009)

For more information please visit
Or contact Ken Bullock at