A day out at the Palace of Westminster with all party parliamentary group discussing “Fire Safety in Britain Today”

With a packed agenda and a list of attendees consisting of fire professionals and politicians from across the political spectrum, the scene was set for a lively debate on Fire Safety.

With Baroness of Enfield chairing the meeting the initial presentations from respected members of the fire service and highly qualified specialists stimulated discussion and comment from the start.

The overriding theme was firmly focused on increasing fire safety in Britain with supporting statistics to underline the commentary.

Whilst CFOA members are still trying to get a consensus across the county with a universal approach to false alarms and attendance to remotely monitored fire systems, they are all in agreement with the fact that sprinklers would save lives. The figure of a 50% reduction in deaths was identified by one speaker with another highlighting the rise in firefighter deaths over recent years.

One of the highlights of the day was the presentation given by Martin Shipp of the BRE on the fire tragedy and deaths in 2004 at the “Rosepark” nursing home inGlasgow.

We were given a real insight to the incident and the subsequent investigation, which has taken a number of years to complete and document. The BRE had painstakingly built a complete and identical section of the building affected by the fire and then carried out tests and modelling to create the same environment and conditions that existed on that fateful day.

Using a number of scenarios and options, including the original, tests were carried out to see what would have changed if, for instance, fire doors were installed and closed (at the time normal doors were in place and routinely left open to let residents walk from room to room) or sprinklers installed. The results were informative and thought provoking.

Most of the 14 deaths had been caused from smoke inhalation with Sheriff principal Brian Lockhart concluding that “some or all” of the deaths could have been prevented if the home had a “suitable and sufficient” fire safety plan. The sheriff added that “an adequate fire plan would have revealed the problems which eventually led to the deaths, such as staff not being properly trained in fire safety and the presence of an electrical distribution board in a cupboard which opened to a “critical escape route” alongside flammable materials”.

He also highlighted “inadequate arrangements” for calling the fire brigade and too many people being housed in one corridor, making evacuation difficult and inefficient.

Over lunch with colleagues in the Cholmondeley Room, House of Lords, we spoke about this presentation more as this really hit home the importance of risk assessment, fire safety plans and early detection. Sprinklers would have reduced the fire damage but fast and accurate detection followed by decisive action might well have prevented this disaster.

The censuses we drew was that fire protection is a combination of actions, plans, methodology and equipment, and as we already knew, not just a single solution.

With an aging population and the likelihood that more care homes will be needed in the future it is important that the lessons from Rosepark are acted upon.

The afternoon session was a further opportunity to discuss more fire incidents; each raised by the local MP, highlighting the problems as well as the effect on the local economy and constituents.

The close was preceded by a Q & A session, drawing on the many points raised throughout the day. One contributor highlighted very eloquently the very discussion that we had at lunchtime: that fire safety is about a number of solutions rather a singular, definitive solution.

The final takeaway was that whatever it takes to increase fire safety, whether this is a legislative or voluntary path, changes are needed to drive down fire related deaths and increased property loss.

Even with the recent changes in law there are still too many breaches; some are blatant but many are still a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the law. We agreed as we left that we still have a long way to go before the risk of fire is diminished.