A Day in the life of a Fire Safety Consultant

Nov

3

2016

Ken Davis - Fire Safety Consultant

By Ken Davis – Churchesfire Fire Safety Consultant

"If I was asked for a single word to describe the job of a Fire Safety Consultant I would say ‘varied’."

No two days are the same for a Fire Safety Consultant, simply because no two buildings or the way they are used are the same. One day I might be inspecting a large high risk factory and the next day might find me discussing fire safety for a proposed new residential care home or inspecting a child-minder’s premises.  This might then be followed by a day in the office catching up on reports.

For example, here’s a breakdown of a typical work day:

07:55 I arrive at my desk and I check e-mail messages and send replies.  One particular message is from a factory safety officer inquiring whether recent alterations to his building will necessitate the Fire Risk Assessment being reviewed.  It appears that a previously disused first floor office area has been put back into use and I suspect this will almost certainly require a review of the assessment.  I will phone him later to discuss.

08:20 My first appointment of the day is at 10:00 which gives me time to look at a set of drawings for a new restaurant which an architect has sent in.  I will need to study the plans in greater detail later as I have appointments for two Fire Risk Assessments today.

09:15 I’m on the road heading for my first appointment which is a Fire Risk Assessment on a block of flats.

09:55 I arrive at a 1970s two storey block of flats and am met by an elderly gentleman who explains that he is deputising for the resident/manager who was originally going to provide access and show me around but has taken a late-notice holiday.  This gentleman invites me into his ground floor flat where he has a plan of the building and various other documents ready for me.  We discuss the building and how it is managed, the idea being to get a feel for how fire safety is maintained and who is responsible for managing fire safety.  I inspect communal areas, a number of store rooms and the electricity and gas intake room to make sure they present no excessive risks to residents.

I notice that the building has no emergency lighting on the landing and staircase which means that a failure of the normal lighting will plunge the staircase enclosure into darkness.  The gentleman tells me that new light fittings are going to be installed throughout the staircase enclosure so I will suggest in my report that the new fittings have integral emergency lighting.  I will also include guidance on managing fire safety, including how to test emergency lighting and making arrangements for regular servicing by a competent technician when it has been installed.

A resident from a first floor flat asks me if it will be acceptable to replace the existing entrance door to his flat with a modern plastic door and frame and shows me a data sheet about the door he wishes to fit.  I point out that the door must be a certified fire door and that this is not mentioned in the data. I hand him my business card and suggest he checks with the supplier and then phones me so we can discuss it further because it is very important to get this right.

11:25 Now en-route back to the office where I will make a couple of essential phone calls before my next Fire Risk Assessment appointment on a residential care home.

13:15 The building I am about to inspect is a converted detached house constructed probably in the 1920s.  The inspection commences with an information gathering exercise where fire safety policies and procedures are discussed in depth.  This is arguably the most important part of a Fire Risk Assessment because even the highest standards of fire safety are of little use if fire safety systems and equipment are not maintained properly or if nobody knows what to do if the fire alarm sounds.

I regularly encounter people who are reluctant to reveal information about fire safety at their premises, presumably because they believe I am going to report any defects to the Fire and Rescue Service.  I always put them at ease by explaining that I have their interests at heart and that I am there to assist them.  I tell them we only discuss their premises with the Fire and Rescue Service if they ask us to.

In this residential care home a member of staff has carried out a Fire Risk Assessment in-house and the owner was happy with it – until the fire officer phoned to book an inspection, at which point any confidence they had in their own Fire Risk Assessment ebbed away and they phoned Churchesfire for a ‘second opinion’!

Although the employee has made a bold attempt she has missed a number of important deficiencies, one of which is vital to people escaping from the second floor.  This serious omission is a failure to spot that, although there are two staircases, an outbreak of fire on the ground floor poses a risk that smoke will spread along the corridor and affect both staircases simultaneously because they are not separated by self-closing fire doors. This can result in people on the second floor becoming trapped and being put at serious risk.

Also, the assessment has not fully considered evacuation procedures and how fire safety is managed.  These omissions are common with in-house Fire Risk Assessments and in this case are really quite serious because it means the fire alarm system and emergency lighting are not being regularly tested and serviced by competent people.  Even if the alarm sounds properly, staff appear unsure about the actions they must to take to evacuate residents and visitors safely.  These points, plus an updated ‘emergency procedures’ document will be detailed in my report.  To her credit, the manager is receptive to the findings of the assessment and her initial concerns are eased when I invite her to phone or email me with any questions she might have when the Fire Risk Assessment report arrives.

17:15 I arrive home in time to reply to an email message from the Customer Services Team about fitting in a late-notice Fire Risk Assessment.  It appears the owner of a flat was on the verge of exchanging contracts when someone asked whether a Fire Risk Assessment has been carried out on the building.  The answer was NO and the sale is now on hold.

The end of another varied day.....!