\'Woefully inadequate\' fire prevention equipment putting patients at risk, probe reveals
An undercover investigation has revealed how badly-damaged fire doors and bodged attempts at repairs have left patients, staff and visitors at a major UK city hospital at risk should a blaze break out.
Many hospitals have a ‘stay put’ policy as part of their fire strategy, because obviously it’s not practical to evacuate very ill patients or somebody during surgery. That’s why hospitals rely especially on fire doors providing the intended fire separation
After numerous failed attempts to encourage essential maintenance by the hospital’s estates team, experts working as part of the Theodore Firedoor safety awareness campaign went undercover to film the shocking state of the doors, which are supposed to prevent the spread of smoke and flames in the event of a fire so that everyone can be safely evacuated from the buildings.
But the probe found that some of the doors were so badly damaged that they would fail to work in the event of an emergency.
A three-and-a-half-minute video of the investigation, uploaded onto YouTube, shows one fire door between the pharmacy area and the main corridor has been repeatedly damaged. Just the addition of door edge protection could have prevented some of this wear and tear. A fire-resistant door to a stairwell was also found to be badly worn and would not provide the 60-minute protection it was designed to do; and in a newer section of the hospital, doors were found with lipping bashed clean off from the hinges to the floor. The undercover report points to ‘woefully inadequate maintenance attention’ which had failed to address the problem.
“The first thing we notice is a distinct lack of maintenance,” said a spokesman. “In particular, the meeting edges of the doors have suffered repeated impact damage. They have clearly been in need of urgent repair for some time,”
And the company says this is indicative of many other hospitals across the country.
“Many hospitals have a ‘stay put’ policy as part of their fire strategy, because obviously it’s not practical to evacuate very ill patients or somebody during surgery. That’s why hospitals rely especially on fire doors providing the intended fire separation.
“So here, of all places, these fire doors pose extremely serious safety implications for the people using the building. There are no excuses, this is addressed in the Fire Safety Order and there’s clear guidance for building managers in BS 9999 .”
A recent example of how serious such risks can be was the fire at Stoke Mandeville Hospital at the end of May, which caused 53 patients to flee for safety, involved 40 firefighters, and resulted in several people being treated for smoke inhalation. Large parts of the building were affected by smoke and water damage.
If you have good fire defences within a building then compartmentation means that if a fire breaks out in one area, then if patients are moved away from this particular zone and the doors are closed, they should be relatively safe for up to an hour or until fire crews get there
And fire investigators published a damning report following a fire at Ipswich Hospital in 2011. So serious were the failings, that the Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service gathered enough evidence to support prosecution of the Suffolk Mental Health Partnership Trust, which ran the unit, for a range of offences.
However, due to the subsequent merger of the trust with the Norfolk and Waveney Mental Health Trust, the body no longer exists and a loophole in the law means the newly-established Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust cannot be held criminally responsible.
And in November last year the London Fire Brigade served an enforcement notice on another trust for similar failings, and an inspection by Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service revealed problems, which meant that if a fire broke out at Hereford County Hospital, there was a danger of it spreading. It too served an enforcement notice and temporary control measures were put in place.
Bob Parkin of Marsden Fire Safety said that compartmentation - the way a facility is built to contain any fire in a particular area without it spreading elsewhere – was a vital consideration for all hospitals.
“Hospitals are built around a progressive horizontal evacuation system,” he added. “The principle is that that you don’t want to have to take people outside should a fire break out, but instead move them progressively sideways away from the fire.
“If you have good fire defences within a building then this compartmentation means that if a fire breaks out in one area, then if patients are moved away from this particular zone and the doors are closed, they should be relatively safe for up to an hour or until fire crews get there.”
To address the problem the Theodore Firedoor campaign, created as part of the Fire Door Inspection Scheme (FDIS), is running Europe’s only programme to train, qualify and provide independent certification for fire door professionals and those with responsibility for fire safety in buildings.
The first fully-qualified and certificated fire door inspectors have now started work around the country, and this month FDIS is launching its ‘Find An Inspector’ service for hospital estate managers. FDIS inspectors will help those with legal responsibilities for fire safety to ensure the safe functioning of all their fire doors, including providing a professional service for hospitals and NHS trusts that require a competent and detailed survey and report on the condition and function of the fire doors on their premises.
The first thing we notice is a distinct lack of maintenance. In particular, the meeting edges of the doors have suffered repeated impact damage
Karen Byard is a fire officer at Bradford District Care Trust and has completed the diploma. She is responsible for more than 130 buildings which have in the region of 10,000 fire doors. Her role covers a range of responsibilities including fire risk assessments, liaising with the fire service, determining whether fire doors should be repaired or replaced in order to maintain their effectiveness and training staff to ensure that people have a basic understanding of fire risks and how they can be minimised.
She told BBH : “Most of the buildings in my area have lots of people using them on a daily basis. Many of the users are vulnerable in various ways and then there’s the issue of damage caused by trolleys and empty wheelchairs being used to open fire doors. Added to that there is a lack of awareness among some of the people involved in maintenance and repairs about how making changes to fire doors can seriously impact on their ability to compartmentalise fire.”
Click here to watch the undercover report.