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This Business Safety Week we’re keen to introduce you to our Protection Team, which works to help Bucks and MK businesses reduce workplace fire risk and comply with fire safety law.

Fire Safety Law

Fire safety law is concerned with the compliance of most premises (excluding individual private flats and houses) to the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (the Order).

The aim of this piece of legislation is to ensure that all reasonable steps have been taken in the workplace to ensure that everyone can escape safely if there is a fire.

For those in blocks of flats and high-rise residential buildings the Order also applies to the common areas such as foyers and more recently, following on from the Grenfell Tower fire, to external wall coverings including balconies.

Fire Safety in BFRS

Within BFRS we refer to fire safety as protection.

Our Protection Team is made up of inspecting officers who work in three offices that deal with fire safety throughout Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes.

The aim of the Protection Team is to ensure that all everyone who works, lives or visits any premises included in the Order is able to safely escape in the rare and unfortunate circumstances of a fire occurring. The team manage this in several different ways.

BFRS Protection Team

Team members:

  • Provide feedback to consultations involving the development of buildings, whether initially being built or a change in use. An example would be the proposed building of a new high-rise residential building where the Protection Team would give its opinion on how the building could be built to ensure that everyone can escape safety or remain safe in their flats if a fire broke out.
  • Respond to fire safety complaints, either from our own staff on fire appliances who are made aware of areas of concern, or from members of the public with similar concerns. A recent example of this was a flat above a restaurant where there was no safe way for the person in the flat to escape without going past a fire that occurred in the restaurant. In this case the Protection Team prohibited the use of the flat, straight away, for the safety of the resident.
  • Undertake visits to premises that have recently had a fire to see whether there is advice which can be offered to reduce the impact or likelihood of a re-occurrence. In some cases fire development progressed because there was insufficient detection. This in turn might compromise the safety of those working in the building, so advice around fire detection and suppression systems and emergency escape routes will be offered.
  • Undertake their own pre-arranged audit visits that reflect BFRS understanding of the risk of a building and who occupies it. For example, if a building is occupied by older or less able people we would see this as a higher risk because those people would not be able to escape as quickly.
  • Work closely with their colleagues in Response and Prevention (Community Safety) to ensure that information on the safety of our communities is passed on to all relevant teams. This happens when Prevention staff spot fire safety issues in common areas, when giving safety advice to people in their own flats.

As the country enters into another period of extreme heat, the Met Office has issued a Level 5 Exceptional Fire Severity Warning for parts of Buckinghamshire this weekend (13/14 August 2022).

The Fire Severity Index (FSI) does not indicate the risk of a fire occurring, but the likely severity of any fire which does occur in an area at that time. It is based upon wind speed, temperature, time of year and rainfall. It has 5 levels:

  • FSI level 1 = low fire severity
  • FSI level 2 = moderate fire severity
  • FSI level 3 = high fire severity
  • FSI level 4 = very high fire severity
  • FSI level 5 = exceptional fire severity

Already this month, Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (BFRS) has attended multiple field fires, including those at Foscott, Marlow Bottom (pictured), Mursley, Penn and Lane End.

The next few weeks will see many young people across Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes taking their first steps towards independent living, as they move away from home and into student accommodation ready for the start of their academic year.

Along with a “Welcome” or “Welcome back” to those returning, firefighters in Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes are keen to share some simple tips that could help reduce the risk of being affected by fire in your student “digs”.

Community Safety Manager, Joanne Cook, said: “We know there is a whole mountain of things that family and friends, and students themselves, have to think about and prepare for when starting, or returning to, further education – and even more this year with COVID-19 at the forefront of all our minds.

“We don’t want to add to the load, however we would like to ask you to add these messages to your take away pack, or that of your home leaver, to make sure our students stay safe as they find their feet living away from home for the first time.

“Following the tips could actually help to lighten the load, and make settling in to a new routine that little bit easier.”

Top tips to takeaway:

To reduce the risk of a fire happening in the first place, Joanne recommends that you:

  • Do not leave cooking unattended.
  • Do not cook if you have been drinking alcohol.
  • Ensure candles are in a suitable holder and keep them away from flammable surfaces or textiles.
  • Do not overload plug sockets.
  • Switch off electrical equipment such as mobile phone chargers when not in use.
  • Keep portable heaters away from curtains and furnishings and never dry clothes on them.

When it comes to “moving in”:

  • Check what the fire safety rules are – burning items like candles in rooms may be banned.
  • Pay attention to fire drills and never ignore alarms.
  • Be aware of the procedure of what to do on discovery of a fire or being alerted to a fire.
  • If you’ve spotted a fire risk or have concerns, speak to the building manager, person you pay your rent to or student ambassador.
  • If you are not satisfied with the response, you can contact the National Union of Students (NUS) for further advice.
  • Know your escape route – what is the quickest way out? Also have an alternative route in mind.
  • If a fire starts, get out, stay out and call 999.

Joanne adds: “It’s also worth knowing a little bit about the regulations for student accommodation, and checking up on the local arrangements for your accommodation.”

Legislation relating to accommodation

Any new-build or refurbished building in England & Wales, including student halls, must comply with the 2010 Building Regulations. These buildings also need to comply with the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).

Providers of student accommodation blocks have a responsibility to comply with fire safety legislation and give advice to their tenants on the fire safety arrangements and procedures for their particular building.

In some building types the residents are told to evacuate the building, whilst in others, especially high rise buildings, they may have a ‘stay put’ policy.

Joanne’s final two top tips:

“As young people move into student accommodation blocks, it is essential that they know the evacuation strategy in place for their building.

“Finally, a really useful document to read through is the NUS leaflet Fire safety and high rise student accommodation. This contains information on the Grenfell Tower fire, the potential implications for students living in high rise halls, and what students and students’ unions can do to ensure student safety. It also provides contact details if you have specific queries or concerns.”