Fire Safety at Home

Dr Shaun Lundy, Technical Director at 4site Consulting looks at fire safety at home and gives you his top ten tips for precautions you should take in your home.

Fire safety affects us all whether at home, work or out about in our local shopping centre. In this article we provide some tips on precautions you can take to minimise the risk that fire can present at work or at home.

According to Home Office statistics the Fire and Rescue Services attended over 500,000 fire incidents in the year ending March 2018. In the same year there were unfortunately 334 fire-related fatalities. Only 52 (6%) of the 801 fires that occurred in purpose-built high-rise flats spread beyond the room of origin, in other words most fires are contained provided there is good compartmentation, which is why the flat front doors are so critical in preventing fire spread. Cooking appliances are the largest ignition source accounting for 48% of all fires but only account for 7% of accidental dwelling fire-related fatalities, which is understandable when you consider that people are generally awake when a cooking fires start and generally react quickly. Smoking accounts for 7% of all fires and 20% of fire related fatalities. Other electrical appliances were by far the largest ignition source in fire related fatalities in this year due to the Grenfell Tower fire (34%).

Fire Safety at Home

The fire risk assessment undertaken in your block will focus primarily on the common areas and rarely within the tenants’ demise. However, most fires will occur within a flat and there are some simple precautions that individuals can take within their own private homes to promote fire safety.

Top 10 Tips for Fire Safety at Home:

  1. Having smoke alarms fitted and testing these regularly. It could be a good idea to set yourself a weekly reminder to test the alarms and ensure that you never take out the batteries, even if it were to go off unintentionally!
  2. Some of the main causes of house fires include cooking. Take care when cooking with hot oil and think about using thermostatically controlled deep fat fryers.
  3. Never leave lit candles unattended and reduce the use of candles where possible.
  4. Ensure cigarettes are stubbed out and disposed of carefully and never smoke in bed.
  5. Keep matches and lighters away from children.
  6. Keep exits clear and plan an escape route, so that in the event of a fire your exit will not be obstructed. Your night time routine should include closing internal doors, such as bedroom doors - this will help to compartmentalise a fire and reduce spreading.
  7. Compartmentalisation is key for ensuring fire safety and literally saves lives. Make sure your front door is a suitable fire door.
  8. Know the evacuation strategy for the block. Is it a ‘stay-put’ or ‘simultaneous evacuation’ strategy?
  9. Take special care when you are tired or when you've been drinking.
  10. Keep clothing away from heating appliances.

Flat Front Doors

Fires are most likely to start within a flat, so the entrance door plays a vital role in ensuring safety for tenants’ and everyone else in the block. Under the terms of a lease, the front entrance door is the leaseholders responsibility.

What does the door need to be?

By law, the door must be self-closing and give an FD30S level of fire and smoke resistance. This means that it must be able to withstand a minimum of 30 minutes exposure to fire.

Any new or replacement doors within an existing block must meet current standards for fire-resisting doors. The main requirements of these standards are that:

  • The door must have a mechanism so that it closes automatically. Fire doors are required to be fitted with either a jamb closer or an overhead door closer:
  • The door, frame and furniture together must be capable of providing a minimum of 30 minutes fire and smoke resistance.
  • The door needs to be fitted with special plastic seals that swell up with heat, called intumescent strips.
  • Cold smoke seals must be fitted along the side and top edges of either the door or frame. These often look like brushes attached to the edges. An example of an intumescent strip with a smoke seal incorporated to it is shown in the picture below.
  • Letterboxes or other openings (e.g. cat flaps) must be made with smoke/fire resisting materials to protect the opening.
  • Any glazed panels must be made of specialist fire resistant glass.

Remember, everyone has a role to play in ensuring fire safety in residential blocks. Preventing fires from starting in the first place is clearly the best option and where a fire does start, containing it through good compartmentation is essential. As the number of smoke detectors used in homes has increased, the number of fatalities has decreased, so having a working smoke detector in a flat is an important lifesaving devise that should never be taken for granted.

Dr Shaun Lundy is the Technical Director at 4site Consulting who provide independent residential and commercial assessments and surveys for owners and managers of property.

Reviewed: July 2019