Once upon a time – early to mid nineteenth century, from the available evidence – someone built a large four-storey out-of-townhouse on the far outskirts of Abingdon. It was an earlier, more innocent age. Smoke detectors and fire alarms hadn’t been invented and the only noticeable fire prevention systems were the tiled floors around the fireplaces that unexpectedly come to light when inhabitants redecorate and lift up the carpets for the first time. (I said innocent, not stupid.)
In the mid 1970s, the house was converted into flats, one per floor. This was also an earlier and more innocent age, and possibly a more stupid one too, because they still didn’t pay much attention to what would happen in the event of fire. The front doors off the flats were still the original doors off the hallway and landing and the only means of escape other than gravity was the central stairwell, so if that caught fire, that was your problem.
In 1991 a callow young 26-year-old moved into one of the flats, and as an owner became by default a member of the management company, but he hadn’t thought much about the deeper issues of life such as dying horribly in a fire and never even raised an eyebrow at the thought that he might be living in a deathtrap. And nor did the other owners.
‘Twas only in early 2010 that the young man, now a bit older and happily married and also the secretary of the management company, as the only owner-occupier left standing, was persuaded by his wife that installing battery powered smoke detectors from Homebase might add slightly to the overall happiness of the human race. They were duly installed. Meanwhile a new tenant had moved in to the top flat with her two daughters, and her ex-husband was a fireman. The fireman took one look at the building where his progeny were now dwelling and was … unimpressed.
The first the company secretary knew was when he received a call from the fire department to say that in response to “a complaint from a member of the public” (whose identity wasn’t too hard to guess: options, fireman ex-husband of neighbour, or casual passerby who surveyed the building from outside and thought “hmm, probably not safe”), he had been to visit the property and noticed the absence of smoke detectors. This was in June last year. As the detectors had been up since March, he either wasn’t very observant or had visited at least three months earlier and only just got round to issuing his report. This was finally followed up in September by a formal visit, suggesting the fire department themselves weren’t feeling the urgency. He agreed the battery smoke detectors were a good stop-gap but not enough. In November we (you’d guessed, hadn’t you?) received formal notification that:
- A grade D, LD3 automatic fire alarm system is to be fitted in the common parts of the house. This comprises of mains powered, with battery back up supply smoke detectors on each landing and a break glass call point by the front door, these need to be interconnected by either wire or wireless means.
- All flats, including those to the rear of the premises are to have domestic smoke detectors fitted, these can be battery powered.
- An emergency lighting system conforming to BS 5266 is to be installed in the common parts of the house
- Water extinguishers should be available at each level of the landing
- The flat doors opening onto the common stairwell are to be 30 minute fire resisting, i.e. solid construction, self closing, have a 25mm stops and smoke and heat seals
- A suitable Fire Risk Assessment should be carried out listing,
a) the fire hazards
b) the people who are at risk
c) evaluation/removal of these hazards
d) a record of findings.
e) a planed review date.
To be on the safe side we both planed and planned the review date and in between other items like having jobs, having a life and so on, it all got done by the agreed cut-off point of 30 April 2011. And today we had our formal inspection, which must have taken at least 2 minutes, and I can proudly report that we are compliant!
Or as Bonusbarn puts it, if we all die in a fire now, we can claim on insurance. Well, quite.