A devastating fire wrecked a block of flats in Barking at the beginning of June. No one died but the fire spread so fast that it could easily have led to loss of life, particularly as the residents reported that no alarms had sounded. Fire safety systems should always be regularly inspected and tested and – unless a stay put policy is in place – residents should evacuate the building immediately they hear the alarm.
Unfortunately, as fire risk specialists Lawrence Webster Forrest says in a recent blog, although the need for immediate evacuation may seem to be something of a ‘no-brainer’, studies have shown that people are reluctant to evacuate and are inclined to assume the fire alarm is a test or a false alarm. Clearly this is dangerous, so fire training in residential blocks is a must – and should be taken as seriously as regular inspections of fire safety equipment.
Thankfully most of us have no experience of fire developing inside a building. But what this means, according to LWF, is that they are likely to base their idea of how fire spreads on their experience of bonfires or other outdoor fires. But fire inside a building represents an imminent threat to life. So in an emergency situation, evacuation must be completed as quickly as possible.
It is the responsibility of property managers to make sure that, in an emergency, residents know what to do and when to do it. This means helping them to:
- familiarise themselves with escape routes, which may not be used on a daily basis.
- Understand how to use exit devices on fire doors. These should be demonstrated and residents given the opportunity to operate one themselves.
It is important that residents know not to use lifts when the fire alarm has sounded. Also, everyone should be familiar with plans to evacuate neighbours with disabilities or who are particularly vulnerable. Knowing who is responsible for helping particular fellow residents could mean the difference between someone evacuating the block safely or being trapped in their flat.
So if you’re a property manager, make sure this is at the top of your list for your next residents meeting. And if you’re a leaseholder or tenant and don’t know what the evacuation procedure is in your block – ask. Don’t take the risk.