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Tags: Stadiums

IFSJ Exclusive: Developing a fire safety plan for a football stadium

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Scan, Analyse, Respond, Assess: Paul Brunt, Fire Safety Manager at Manchester United Football Club discusses his role and developing a fire safety plan for a football stadium

One of the main challenges for me was how I would handle transferring my skills and experience from working in an enforcement authority to a regulatory department within the private sector. I joined Manchester United with a full 25 years of experience of working in emergency services. Some of the incidents I attended had impacted on people, localities, nationally and internationally. Using some of my personal experiences when engaging with colleagues at Manchester United really helped me build effective working relationships, the people here are very receptive to my observations on Fire Safety. They’ve been very welcoming, and I’ve had support right across the board, all the way up to the chief executive and our board of directors.

I try and engage and speak to everybody. I want everyone to be confident that if they want to speak to me about fire safety, then they can. Coming from enforcement, where I’d witnessed businesses and operators working in a way that they didn’t support the fire safety ethos was concerning, but I’ve not seen any of that here.

Everybody knows I’m only here to do one thing and that’s to make sure that when they come to work, or they visit as a member of public, that they go home safely. I’m not here to make a name for myself. I’m not here to create an empire.

Developing a plan

Developing a fire and safety plan for a football stadium is not something that an individual can do themselves. The stadium uses third party accredited competent contractors and products. We make sure that the background of the company that we are sourcing to do a fire strategy, or a fire safety plan, will be done in conjunction with working with people at the stadium. That includes myself, my colleague Craig Jepsen, Head of Property Services who is in charge of all the maintenance of the stadium, the upkeep and the matchday operations, and Jim Liggett, who’s the Director of Operations and Maintenance. Jim is fully committed to improving the safety culture and to maintain and continually promote high standards of safety in the workplace.

Craig looks after everybody that works in and around the stadium, from the joiners to the painters to the cleaners – everybody maintenance wise. Take cleaning the stadium after home fixture: you wouldn’t  believe how much waste and refuge we have which can impact on fire safety efforts, but his team never leave anything in places where it shouldn’t be.

Above and beyond

Some of the British Standards will take you to a certain level, but we will always look at where can we enhance that further to make it even safer. The regulatory reform doesn’t say how you need to review the fire risk assessment for a stadium. What we say is for the stadium, minimum, every 12 months. It doesn’t go beyond 12 months.

If we make any changes, such as a be simple refurb, we’ll look at the new golden thread. If there’s any slight changes in northwest quad or one of our stands then the fire risk assessment will be reviewed for that particular stand to reflect any updates or modifications made. Once we get to five reviews, we renew it. We don’t just do a review where they come in and glance over things. I want the full renewal.

It’s imperative that whenever we have contractors in that our project managers are continually checking the standard of workmanship to ensure that they’re delivering on what we’ve asked them to deliver on.

One of our biggest priorities is firefighting shafts. I check them once a fortnight to make sure that nothing has been changed. We’ve got five over 500 dampers around the stadium. We check them every six months via silent testing.

We undertake silent testing at two o’clock in the morning. We’ll come in, we’ll actuate the alarm on a particular stand and make sure that everything in that stand is operating as it should i.e. fire shutters coming down on the concourses, fire doors closing as they should, dampers – you name it, we check everything. There’s a lot happens when somebody actuates the fire alarm.

Evacuation strategy

As part of Fire Risk Assessment for our stadium, the effectiveness of the procedure for evacuation will need to be assessed. At Old Trafford, our evacuation strategy is done with the assistance of a third party, we use architects that have a history of working with the stadium. We continually assess what we do, we review how we do it, making changes where required.

The stadium’s Fire Alarm is an Emergency Voice Communications system. Research has been undertaken into the effectiveness of providing audible speech warnings incorporating evacuation instructions. Informative fire warning systems are found to be more effective than a conventional fire tone alarm in encouraging a prompt evacuation and also provide specific details of directions to take, etc. In our stadium we use emergency voice communications. (EVC)


I use an approach called SARA (Scan Analyse, Respond Assess.) It is essentially a rational method to methodically identify and analyse problems, develop specific responses to individual problems and subsequently assess whether the response has been successful; SARA is a continuous process and a way of simplifying the how I approach matters.

I work closely with a number of teams at Manchester United, from catering, to Group Property Services to our Stadium Safety Team. Our aim is to support the players on the pitch by being the best we can off the pitch. On a match day, typically a game played at Old Trafford with over 74,000 fans is one of the largest sporting events in the country. During this time of certified use, our Stadium Safety Team take overall responsibility for everyone’s safety.

Headed by Craig Thompson and supported by a team of professionals, including his deputy Jon Hornby, the Stadium Safety Team arrange for over 1,400 safety personnel to be on duty, this includes a team of Fire Stewards who I look after and over 60 Medical Personnel.

I am keen to promote a collaborative approach to working with agencies from outside Manchester United, this includes colleagues from our Emergency Services. I frequently facilitate visits for Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service; these include familiarisation and information gathering visits and taking part in training exercises. It is also a requirement of current UK legislation that we plan for Emergencies with external services. To assist colleagues from our Emergency Services I have created several information folders which are strategically located and available to support any Emergency Response to our premises.

Continuous review

Regular reviews also us to take into account changes in legislation and guidance. If we look at a risk area, lets say a kitchen. We have 23 kitchens around the stadium, on a match day we have around 140 chefs working in these kitchens preparing over 6000 meals for 27 restaurants and a 128 private boxes, to deliver this service our catering department employ over 1,500 hospitality staff.

I undertake regular Fire Safety Reviews of all our kitchens, these reviews include examining the Passive and Active Fire Protection for the kitchen area. Neither Passive nor Active Fire Protection Measures can be installed and then forgotten; they require regular inspection and maintenance.

Our Maintenance Service contracts are established with accredited contractors for installed equipment an example of a Passive Protection system in our kitchens and around the stadium are we have over 500 fire dampers which are installed in ducts where they pass through compartment wall.

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