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Fire safety in the home

Most fires in the home start accidentally and the effects of a serious fire can be devastating.

It's important that you know how to reduce the chances of a fire starting in your home and keep yourself, your family and your property safe from fire.

Read our quick guide on keeping your home safe (PDF).

Most fires in the home are caused by lifestyle factors such as smoking, leaving cooking unattended, using candles, storing large amounts combustible material or even faulty electrical appliances (such as dishwashers left on overnight) or overloading of electrical sockets. By taking a few sensible precautions you can significantly reduce your chances of having a fire.

The London Fire Brigade website has a lot of practical guidance to help minimise the likelihood of a fire breaking out in your home.

Make a plan

Preparing and practising a plan of action will help you to act quickly if there is a fire. Everyone who lives, or is staying in your home should know this plan, and it helps to go through it with your family or anyone else that lives or stays with you including children, older people and lodgers.

  • Put a reminder of what to do on the fridge door or notice board
  • Make sure everyone knows where the keys to doors and windows are kept
  • Choose an escape route. The best route is usually the normal way in and out of your home. Think of any difficulties you or the other people in your household may have and prepare for these
  • Choose a second escape route as well and keep both these routes clear. Remember – if you live on a ground floor, a window could be used as an escape route
  • Plan the order that you will escape in, so that if you have to go out of a window you can help others out (ground and first floor only)
  • Choose a safe room. If you can’t escape you will need to find a room where you can wait for the Fire Brigade. A safe room should have a window and a telephone

Fire in the home

Should the worst happen and the smoke alarm goes off or you discover a fire in your home, shout to wake everyone up/alert them and get everyone together. Follow your escape plan and get out of the building. It is also important to read the guidance below on what to do if you can’t escape.

  • If a fire starts the priority is to get everyone out and call 999, don’t try to fight a fire yourself
  • Do not stop to investigate the fire or to collect valuables or pets
  • Use your escape route to get everyone out and meet at an agreed point
  • Close any doors which are open, and only open the doors you need to go through. This will help to stop the fire spreading so rapidly
  • Check doors with the back of your hand. If a door is warm, don’t open it, the fire is on the other side
  • If there is a lot of smoke, crawl along the floor as the air is cleaner
  • Once you’ve got everyone out of the building, call 999 from any phone
  • Give the operator your name and address
  • Don’t go back into the building for anything. If there is still someone inside, tell firefighters when they arrive, they will be able to find the person quicker and more safely than you
  • Find somewhere safe to wait for the fire brigade. When they arrive, try to give them as much information as possible about the fire and building i.e. where the fire started and if there are any particular hazards such as medical oxygen cylinders.

Smoke detection and warning

One of the best things you can do to stay safe from fire is to make sure you have a working smoke alarm(s) installed. In recent years Islington Council has installed smoke/heat detectors in resident’s homes through major works programmes or in conjunction with the electrical installation testing regime. These devices are designed to provide early warning of a fire in your home, giving you as much time as possible to escape should a fire break out.

These smoke/heat detectors typically run off the mains electricity supply. It is important to remember that in the event of a mains power failure (or lack of credit for key meters) the battery back-up in the alarms will discharge in around 48hrs. The alarms will not operate effectively again until mains power has been restored and the back-up batteries are fully recharged.

It is also important that you test your smoke alarm regularly and report any defects to Housing Direct on 0800 694 3344.

Fire safety in your block

The council has an on-going Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) programme for all of its properties. The FRA is a detailed examination of the common parts of the building, considering the use, occupancy type and the activities taking place.

The main purpose of the FRA is to ensure that fire safety measures are in good working order, the means of escape are obvious or identified and free of obstructions and to assess the level of structural fire resistance. Where defects or improvements are identified, they will be addressed by repairs or cyclical improvement programme (CIP) depending on the level of priority.

There is a common misconception that those living on the higher levels of a high-rise block of flats are at greater risk from fire, but statistically there is no evidence to support this. Even if a fire does break out it is no more likely to cause a fatality in a high-rise block than a low-rise block.

It is also important to recognise that most fires do not spread from the room where they start, let alone to other dwellings. A fire will often burn itself out (or be put out by the emergency services) long before it is able to spread to other parts of the building, adjoining flats or the common parts of a block. The likelihood of fire spreading in this way is generally very low.

If you live in a flat or maisonette and there is a fire elsewhere in your block, the action you should take will depend on the type of property you live in. The FRA inspection will also determine the fire safety strategy for the building. There are two general strategies in the event of fire, commonly referred to as ‘stay-put’ and ‘simultaneous evacuation’. These are explained in the table below and your home will fit into one of these categories. 

Stay Put

Simultaneous Evacuation

In general purpose built blocks of flats are designed on the ‘stay put’ principle, which means each dwelling is a fire-resisting enclosure which will typically hold back fire for a minimum of 60 minutes due the construction methods and materials used.

Where these high levels of structural fire resistance are provided, it is usually safer for residents to remain in their home if fire breaks out in another part of the building, such as another flat in the block or the common parts.

It is important to recognise however that in some major fires, there may come a point when it is no longer safe to stay put. If at any stage you become affected by smoke, heat or fire, you should leave by the nearest available exit route, even if there is stay put strategy in place.

Stay-put is still the preferred strategy for most properties and will be adopted wherever possible in line with national fire safety guidance.

Where a stay-put strategy is in place the fire and rescue service will evacuate any properties they consider to be at risk in the event of fire but this is likely to be restricted to certain floors or parts of the building.

There are exceptions to every rule and the structural fire protection in some older blocks/properties may not be considered adequate to safely support a stay-put strategy.

This may be due to the type of construction, materials used, alterations that have been made over the years or the age and general design of the building.

Where the level of structural fire resistance is known, or suspected not to provide a minimum of 60 minutes separation between dwellings or compartments a stay put strategy is unlikely to be appropriate.

In such cases (and where it is not possible or cost effective to upgrade the structural precautions) then a higher standard of fire detection and warning system will be provided. This will typically mean that heat detectors will link all dwellings in a block, so a fire in one flat will trigger the heat alarms in all properties in the block to activate and provide early warning of a fire in another property and allow other residents to evacuate.

If your block has been designated as simultaneous evacuation, it is vitally important that you plan your escape, as set out above.

Fire safety instructions will also be displayed in the common areas of the block if it has been designated as simultaneous evacuation.

 

Storage of combustible materials

It is important that storage of combustible materials in common areas is kept to a minimum. Whilst door mats, plant pots may be considered acceptable (within reason), unwanted furniture left in corridors or lobbies presents a serious fire hazard and this will be removed by your local Estate Services team. This also includes external communal balconies, which may be designated means of escape routes and must be kept free of obstructions.

Fire can also spread externally if there is excessive storage on private balconies. Again storage of combustible materials in these areas should be kept to a minimum wherever possible.

If you store large amounts of combustible materials within your home, you may put yourself at greater risk of serious injury should a fire break out. This will provide fuel for the fire, resulting in rapid fire growth which will not only produce toxic smoke that makes it difficult to breath, it may also cut off your means of escape route and trap you inside the property. If the council considers that storage of combustible materials presents an unacceptable risk to the tenant or neighbouring properties, action will be taken under conditions of tenancy.

Home fire safety visits 

The London Fire Brigade offer a free Home Fire Safety Visit service, which involves them visiting your home to make an assessment of fire risk and providing advice to make it safe. 

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