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?
Many landlords have installed sprinklers into some blocks in the belief 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:
- Installing a water misting system into properties occupied by residents who might have difficulty escaping from their home as a result of a fire.
- Installing an aerosol suppression system into 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 in those areas would be extinguished without the use of water.
- Providing able bodied residents with 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 LGA “Fire safety in purpose built blocks of flats” guidance states:
67.5 This does not preclude residents in any block of flats from providing their own
equipment, such as fire blankets or fire extinguishers to tackle a fire in their own flat
should they wish to do so.
In addition, the English Housing Survey found that during 2016-17 fire services only attended 25% of the 332,000 fires during that period.
And then there’s the option of a building alarm system (now included as a proposal in the current fire safety bill consultation) 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 details of mobility restricted residents (with their permission of course). 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