Why do we let fires happen?

28/07/2009 - 00:00
A hotel in Blackpool has this week been destroyed by a raging fire with over 100 firefighters trying to rescue it. Less than two weeks ago, a firefighter died battling a blaze at an Edinburgh pub. Dennis Webster, a registered fire risk assessor, gives us his view.

Euan Williamson, a firefighter with Lothian & Borders Fire & Rescue Service, was killed while attending a fire in a pub in the Balmoral Bar in Dalry Road, Edinburgh in the early hours of Sunday 12th July 2009. Condolences go to family and friends. Around 22 people had to be rescued by Fire Service personnel. This has been the disaster we have been waiting to happen. The Fire (Scotland) Act 2005: part three and The Regulatory Reform (Fire) Order 2005 in England & Wales allow and encourage the responsible person, usually a manager, to carry out Fire Risk Assessments if they feel they are competent enough. The definition of competence is: having sufficient experience, knowledge and skills to carry out the task. Unfortunately far too many premises have been Fire Risk Assessed by persons who obviously don't have the necessary competence to carry out Fire Risk Assessments. A firefighter being killed is tragic enough but to have 22 people requiring to be rescued by The Fire & Rescue Service is not acceptable. The Fire Risk Assessment (if there was one) should have taken cognizance of persons liable to be in or around the premises. That includes sleeping risks above the premises. Early warning of fire should have been given to those residents in the tenement. This would have been done if an automatic fire detection system been installed with sounders in the common close. It is time the legislation is changed so that Fire Risk Assessments are required to be carried out by suitably qualified persons. The Audit Control by Fire & Rescue Authorities is not working and is not robust enough because Fire Safety Officers have targets to reach in the amount of audits they carry out and don't have the time to ensure compliance. Let the public be protected by ensuring that Fire Risk Assessments are carried out by qualified and third party approved assessors.

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