Fire strategies for prisons; our latest projects further diversify our OFR portfolio

Our OFR portfolio spans multiple sectors and multiple countries. From shopping malls in Africa, to a research centre in Antarctica, to Google’s new HQ in London, we are fortunate to work on a range of projects that draw on the best of our colleagues’ skills. Recently we’ve expanded that offering again working with the Ministry of Justice on fire strategies as part of a £1bn project that will upgrade four prisons across England. Here our colleague Rich Rankin tells us more.

We were recently appointed on a new series of projects with the Ministry of Justice, working on fire engineering strategies for prisons in Yorkshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire and Buckinghamshire. 

The programme is part of the Alliance 4 New Prisons (A4NP) programme, a project that will see the development of four new adult male prisons built by ISG, Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Wates – a group of Tier 1 contractors working together as part of the government’s Construction Playbook. 

The A4NP will develop a standardised design that will then be applied across each of the four prison sites, building on the approach of the Ministry of Justice pathfinder common design prisons at HMP Five Wells and Glen Parva.

It’s a fascinating project, and an interesting sector to work in, requiring a unique approach to fire engineering. When you think of the basic premise of this type of building, you realise the entire idea is to stop people getting out – something that’s completely unaligned with our work as fire engineers.

This is where prison fire strategies become very interesting with a layered approach that ensures inmate safety without compromising a prison’s overall security. 

Fundamentally, prison cells are designed using materials that are difficult to ignite – think brick, stone and metal. Should however a fire occur within a prison cell, there are layers of strategies in place; the first line of defence is an automatic water mist system in every cell. Should that fail, there’s a backup strategy in the form of an inundation hole in each cell door, through which a hose reel can be inserted, to enable water to be applied to the fire in the cell. Additionally, cell blocks are provided with a smoke control system which operates in two stages; an initial pressurisation stage intended to contain smoke in the cell of fire origin, followed by an extraction stage, if necessary, designed to maintain tenable conditions in the escape routes.

Such designs mean that in prisons, fires will largely restrict themselves to one area, meaning they can be controlled and protect everyone working and residing inside.

These principles form part of the new fire strategies we are working on with the Ministry of Justice this year. The innovative programme will adopt modern methods of construction and a collaborative delivery methodology – all of which will be underpinned by consistent fire engineering strategies.

We’ve already delivered designs for two of the sites and look forward to completing the next stage of designs as we expand our work in this unique sector.


Richard Rankin

Design Director

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Christine Leigh

Principal Fire Engineer

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