Fire Safety Awareness
Fire Safety Guidance
Fire deaths are sadly on the increase in London, with 23 deaths occurring in the final quarter of 2022. Two of the incidents last year resulted in the deaths of 6 children.
Behaviours that contributed to these fires show that residents were:
- In receipt of care
- Usually smokers
- Usually immobile
- Unable to call for help
- Without a completed fire risk safety assessment
With the current cost of living crisis, it is likely that more residents will start to use candles and naked flames as an energy substitute.
The energy provider should be contacted for help and advice to deter the use of unsafe heating and lighting.
Guidance for Professionals and Carers
If you are providing care in any capacity, it is essential that you are able to identify fire risks and are able to take immediate action to address and manage those risks. Working with family members can help to ensure that they are also aware of the dangers that certain behaviours can pose.
Fire risks present themselves in all sorts of ways, so be on the look-out for any safety concerns such as:
- Are smoke alarms fitted correctly in every room?
- Would the resident benefit from receiving telecare and are their smoke alarms linked to it?
Telecare is a way of providing support and assistance at a distance. Devices such as smoke alarms, fall detectors and pull cords alert that a vulnerable person needs help. When installed in accordance with the relevant standards, Telecare can improve a resident’s likelihood to survive a fire. A significant number of London residents who had Telecare in place have died as it was not linked to smoke detection.
- Is there a sensory impairment that affects hearing or sight?
- Does the resident smoke? Look out for scorch marks on clothes and furnishings, particularly if the patient is bed bound. Proper ashtrays should be made available and emptied regularly. Never smoke when using oxygen. If an e-cigarette is used it should never be left charging overnight.
- Would fire retardant bedding and nightwear be appropriate?
- Are prescribed drugs being used that can cause drowsiness?
- Is the resident drug or alcohol dependent?
- Does the resident use an electric blanket? An electric blanket should never be used with an air flow mattress.
- Are portable heaters too close to furniture or being used to dry laundry? Heaters should be placed at least one metre away from furniture. People with mobility issues are especially at risk of tripping or falling onto a heater. Placing them at a safe distance is all the more important.
- Are pans left unattended on the cooker hob? Is there a build-up of grease or fat on the hob that can ignite and cause a fire?
- Do electrical extension leads look overloaded? The wall may show scorch marks above the plug. It is always recommended that fused extension leads are used as these cut out if they overheat. Be aware of the limit of extension leads. https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/guides-and-advice/around-the-home/overloading-sockets/
- Are candles and tea-lights being used in unsafe holders? Keep all candles and other naked flames away from children and pets. Battery operated or electric candles are safer. If clothes catch fire by accident:
- Stop – don’t run, you’ll make the flames worse
- Drop – lie down on the ground at once
- Roll – in heavy fabric or a fire blanket to smother the flames, though just on the ground will help
- Consider if someone with learning difficulties or dementia would be less able to react to a fire
- Are internal doors left open at night that could contribute to a fire spreading more quickly?
- Is there a clear pathway to escape? Hoarders usually have cluttered or blocked escape routes. See SAB Self-neglect and Hoarding Policy: Self-Neglect-and-Hoarding-Policy.pdf (safeguardinghavering.org.uk)
- Are door keys nearby and can they unlock the door to escape?
If the person is in a care home and you have fire safety concerns, these must be raised with care home management immediately.
Specialist Healthcare Equipment
- Emollients and skin creams may contain paraffin or natural oils. A build-up of these emollients or skin residue on fabrics can increase the risk of fire. This is a particular risk for people who spend extended time in a bed or chair. If emollient creams are used, speak to their GP or pharmacist about the potential of a non-flammable alternative ensuring that bedding is washed in accordance with guidance. CQC has recently been made aware of a person living in a care home who died due to burns sustained when they became engulfed in flames. They have published a learning from safety incident webpage. This highlights the fire risk associated with emollients and signposts to resources, including a short video produced by the MHRA and National Fire Chiefs Council.When prescribing, recommending, dispensing, selling, or applying emollient products, people should be instructed not to smoke or go near naked flames. Clothing or fabric such as bedding or bandages that have been in contact with an emollient or emollient-treated skin can rapidly ignite.Be aware that washing clothing or fabric at a high temperature may reduce emollient build-up but not totally remove it.
- Oxygen Therapy contains more oxygen than normal and can be used for people with severe respiratory conditions. It creates much more oxygen around the user and increases the opportunity for a developing fire to spread quickly. If the oxygen tank becomes hot, it can cause an explosion.
- Air mattresses used for pressure ulcers can be punctured by a heat source which causes the escaping air to cause a fire to spread quickly.
- Incontinence products tend to be supplied in large quantities and are usually stored close to the patient where they can become involved in a fire.
Ensure that any fire risks are entered on to the care plan of the person you care for if they have one. Their condition can change at any time and the care plan should be regularly reviewed and updated
Ensure that a person centred fire risk assessment is in place and the carer is trained in fire safety.
Lewisham has produced a risk assessment for smokers in care homes: lewisham_risk_assessments_for_smoking_in_care_homes_-_nov_2019___
What to do if a fire occurs
If a smoke alarm goes off when you are visiting someone’s home, don’t assume it is a false alarm. Alert other people in the property by shouting “FIRE”.
Get out, stay out and call 999. In London, the first fire appliance aims to reach you within six minutes. Wait for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to assist you, do not try to tackle the fire yourself or stop to collect valuables.
Before opening a door, check if it is warm as there may be a fire on the other side. If it isn’t warm, open it carefully and follow your escape plan, closing doors behind you. If there is any smoke, keep as low as possible where the air is clearer.
If the person you care for is unable to leave the house, ensure that everyone who is unable to evacuate is in the same room if possible. Close the door of the room you are in, placing soft materials around the bottom of the door to block the smoke and open the windows to allow smoke to escape. Let the LFB know where you are located in the building.
Home Safety Visit by the London Fire Brigade
Make a referral for a home safety visit from the LFB with a relative or carer present if possible. This visit can enable additional control measures to be recommended such as smoke detectors linked to a call centre. LFB can fit smoke alarms for those who are visually impaired, deaf or hard of hearing. They can also help to plan what to do if a fire happens including advice on staying safe if escape is difficult or impossible.
To book a home safety visit:
Freephone: 0800 028 4428
Text/SMS 07860 021 319
Fire Safety in the Home booklet is available below:
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Some kinds of heater present a carbon monoxide risk which can be fatal. It can make you drowsy and less able to escape. That’s why it’s so important to always fit a
Carbon monoxide alarm in rooms with solid fuel, gas or paraffin heaters.
Carbon Monoxide is a silent killer and causes around 50 deaths and hundreds of injuries every year.
Symptoms can include:
- Loss of Consciousness
Warning signs to look out for are:
- Symptoms only occur when you are in your home and disappear or get better when you leave.
- Others in your home are experiencing similar symptoms (including your pets).
- Black, sooty marks on the front covers of gas fires.
- Sooty or yellow/brown stains on or around boilers, stoves or fires.
- If you get any symptoms when appliances are in use, eg; when the boiler is on.
- Increased condensation on the windows.
- Pilot lights frequently blowing out. Yellow instead of blue flames coming from gas appliances or flames are not fully formed (e.g. if flame isn’t all the way round on a gas hob burner).
If you suspect CO poisoning or if your CO alarm sounds:
- Open doors and windows to ventilate (if possible).
- If you are able to do so safely, switch off the appliance.
- Get outside into the fresh air quickly. Seek immediate medical advice. See your
- GP or go to hospital. Let them know that you suspect CO poisoning, they can do can do a blood or breath test to check.
- Before you return to your home it is very important to call the gas emergency number: 0800 111 999 and tell them what has happened. You may need an engineer to inspect your appliances and flues to check if there is a dangerous problem.
In 2016, we published this SAR (Safeguarding Adults’ Review) with learning around fire safety awareness here
A Thematic Safeguarding Adults Review into fatal fire deaths by Kensington, Chelsea and Westminster can be found here.
Lewisham SAB commissioned a SAR for a man who died from a cigarette burning his clothing: lsab_sar_-_mr_cs_-_practitioners_briefing_october_2018
A Carers Guide to Home Fire safety
Fire Safety for Gypsies and Travellers
LFB Equality Impact Assessment
Home Fire Safety Check On-Line
Safe at Home – YouTube video
For more information please visit: www.london-fire.gov.uk