Jan speaking at Olympia

Jan spoke at the Homes 2018 event at Olympia on Wednesday 28 November 2018. The subject was;

How can we take advantage and learn from innovations in fire safety, whilst also ensuring we apply due diligence to those products?

His session looked at some of the new products on the market including:

• A fire extinguisher that doesn’t need servicing
• Software in a CCTV system that can spot a flame (quicker than the human eye) and send an “alert” automatically
• A personal fire extinguisher that is no bigger than a torch, cheap enough to have one in every kitchen
• A water misting suppression system that is connected to the mains water supply in individual flats, negating the need for any communal works and reducing water damage in the event of a fire
• An aerosol suppression system that can be used in a variety of locations, but is yet to be used in domestic settings
• An alarm system that can be used in a tower block without conflicting with a “stay put” policy

The session looked at the process of creating, achieving and maintaining standards that could be used to give assurance about new products. This issue is particularly relevant with the Hackitt review identifying concerns around testing and the publication of results.

Following the fires at Lakanal House and Grenfell Tower, the “stay put” policy for purpose-built flats has been called into question, leaving residents with the constant worry “what happens if there’s a fire in my building?”

The reality is that prior to the publicity surrounding the events at Lakanal, most people, including housing managers, had never heard of a “stay put” policy. From a housing manager’s point of view, if a fire occurred, the fire brigade turned up, put it out and went away.

Residents affected by the fire would have left the building during the fire, but in many cases those unaffected may not had known there was a fire and would have stayed put.

Statistics show that fires very rarely spread from the flat of origin, but even the phrase “very rarely” will provoke concern from residents. So what should landlords do now?

Some landlords have rushed to install sprinklers into blocks in the belief that that will create certain safety.  The March 2019 report commissioned by the National Fire Chiefs Council indicates that whilst sprinklers contribute to fire safety, they are NOT 100% effective.

It may be more effective to offer further fire safety assurance to residents as part of a targeted fire safety strategy. I’m calling this:

Stay put plus

Obviously, passive fire safety measures need to be correctly in place. But in addition, residents might be reassured if landlords provide extra fire safety measures such as:

Properties occupied by residents who might have difficulty escaping from their home as a result of mobility issues or other fire safety concerns could have a water misting system installed.

An aerosol suppression system could be installed in every electrical intake cupboard or plant room not normally frequented by the public. This would mean a fire started through an electrical or other technical fault could be extinguished without the use of water.

If funds are not immediately available to install a suppression system in every home, then able bodied residents could be offered small fire extinguishers that can be used in any fire (unlike the complicated ones seen in offices and other public places) and/or smoke hoods. I am aware that fire service advice is to “get out” when a fire is discovered, but the English Housing Survey found that during 2016-17 fire services only attended 25% of the 332,000 fires during that period.

https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/english-housing-survey-2016-to-2017-fire-and-fire-safety

And then there’s the option of a building alarm system (now recommended in the Grenfell Phase 1 Report) that could be linked with all residences that would only be used by the fire service incident commander to evacuate the building floor by floor.

Of course, there should be a Premises Information Box containing building plans and Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for mobility restricted residents. In addition, it should also contain the details of the nearest community centre that can act as a temporary refuge in the event of the evacuation, together with details of keyholders.

Quite clearly, the decision to evacuate a building during a fire has to rest with the incident commander, but if landlords and residents can work together to reduce the likelihood of that being necessary then that has to increase confidence that fire safety is being taken seriously by everyone.

Jan Taranczuk CIHCM

Housing practitioner

December 2019

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