Planning Care Homes Fire Safety
Chris Peters, our Chief Design Manager, concludes his two-part look at fire safety in care homes.
In the first part of this article on fire safety in care homes, I made the point that they’re more common than we imagine.
Every year in the UK, there are between 800 and 900 fires in places caring for older people.
Most, thankfully, are relatively minor, but only recently there was a major fire at a care home in Liverpool that had to be evacuated.
And in August, more than 150 residents had to be evacuated from the Beechmere complex in Crewe, Cheshire, which was destroyed.
Most fires start accidentally, but not always. Earlier this year, a man was charged with arson following a fire at care home in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset. Residents at the home were evacuated with two people taken to hospital for smoke inhalation.
The great majority of fires in care homes occur in kitchens. But fire safety in complex buildings is determined by many different factors.
These include how easy the building is to evacuate, and the ability of a building to resist the effects of fire and minimise its spread.
That’s where advanced glazing systems come in. Our systems are subjected to furnace temperatures of well over 1000˚c.
This tests the strength of the glass and the protective level of the glazing system. That determines their overall capability to maintain compartmentation in a fire situation for up to 120 minutes.
That’s critical in a healthcare or care home facility where there may be a great deal of flammable material. Most obviously, medical oxygen supplies.
The core function of an integrated glass and framing system is to provide an effective barrier against the passage of fire, heat and toxic gases. This allows people to escape and, by containing the fire, minimises fire damage.
Classifications for glazing systems vary with Class EI providing the highest level of protection from fire, smoke and radiant heat. Class EW offers protection from fire and smoke. Class E gives the lowest protection level. Nor does it to prevent the transfer of radiant heat, which can set of secondary fires.
There is also legislation covering discrimination against disabled people. For example, if a door is too heavy to be manually operated then it should be power assisted. To meet that requirement, we have fire-rated unlatched door systems.
Our doors are also smoke tested due to the twin rebate seal design of the door profiles – an important safety feature.
Care homes, like other healthcare facilities, post particular challenges. The elderly and vulnerable may have limited ability to self-evacuate.
It’s why building designers, working with safety professionals, will model the whole building. That will illuminate strategies for compartmentation, and how to evacuate that building.
It adds up to determining robust fire safety policies and evacuation plans, and the importance of practicing them.
But, as I said in my first article, the London Fire Brigade found fault with as many as one in three care homes in 2018.
Of the 177 homes they inspected, 57% were issued with a formal notification instructing them to address safety concerns. The brigade launched its review after a series of fires at care homes.
In February 2018 a resident in his 80s died in a fire at the Woodlands View care home in Stevenage. In 2017 two people died in a Cheshunt care home after a fire travelled through the roof, quickly engulfing the building.
Sadly, the high numbers of care homes failing to fully address fire safety is likely to be mirrored across the country.
Things may be better than they once were, but fires in care homes are still a common occurrence.