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Blog: Improve Your Fire Safety Awareness by Dr Vikki McCall

Dr Vikki McCall of Parkhead Housing Association discusses the importance of fire safety one year on from the catastrophic Grenfell Tower fire.

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With the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in London on 14 June 2017, fire safety has been at the heart of the housing sector both politically and in practice. The 1 year anniversary of the fire puts into the limelight the repoliticalization of the high-rise with questions raised about action, implementation and how to take the right steps to stop this ever happening again.

The Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group on Building and Fire Safety has launched a consultation on expert group recommendations, which include creating a central hub focused on design for high-rise buildings, a new compliance plan and mandatory notifications.

However, many people have been asking what steps they can take now, today and tomorrow to ensure the safety of their tenants.

With this in mind, I took the Diploma/MSc in Housing Studies students to visit the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) Safe and Well House. This was a real eye-opening visit with the students hearing live footage of people trapped in buildings. Many of our students found out quickly that they often work with people living in areas that are at higher risk of fire due a mixture of reasons related to poverty, age, health, design and lifestyle.

We were then shown just how quickly a fire can spread via a live simulation. 

Most importantly, the Safe and Well House highlighted just how avoidable many fires are. Students were taken into rooms similar to a real home and taught how to spot fire hazards, clue in on warnings and how to encourage practical changes and help tenants be more fire aware. They were also told how to refer those tenants most at risk from fire to SFRS for a Home Fire Safety Visit.

Students were extremely impressed by the scale, focus and practical hands-on training.

Through the course of the training Watch Manager John Gray had pointed out that while in the past the SFRS have focused on social care routes to support and access people in their home, they have realised the importance of making strong partnerships with the housing sector:

 “Housing sector staff, through their regular contacts with tenants, and onward referrals to SFRS are helping our communities stay safe by allowing us to target our Home Fire Safety Visits to those most at risk from fire.

The day spent with the Housing Studies students was a great success. We look forward to continuing this partnership, and welcoming other Social Housing Sector staff to the Safe and Well House.” (Watch Manager John Gray)

This focus, willingness to work with the housing sector with resources and free training is an amazing opportunity for the Housing sector to increase its links and become the leaders in fire safety practice. 

Parkhead Housing Association (PHA) also took the opportunity to experience this training. Housing Officer Clem Cloughley who attended the training said:

“It was a combination of informative ,scary and exciting and I would recommend all front line housing staff get this real life experience “

Graeme Aitken, Director of Operations, Parkhead Housing Association added that having two years ago suffered a major fire, caused by a dropped cigarette butt,  in a tenemental block (with thankfully no fatalities or injuries), Parkhead HA have also:

  • Encouraged tenants not to leave any inflammable materials in common close areas or to block such areas with bikes, prams etc, although this has proven to be challenging

  • Advertised home fire safety visits on social media and our in house magazine which goes to all tenants

  • Directly contacted Scottish Fire and Rescue regarding home safety visits for vulnerable tenants.

I plan to take my students at the University of Stirling to the Safe and Well house again next year and would absolutely encourage others to link in and gain the benefit of this support. I would like very much to see the social housing sector as clear leaders in this area as we move to more holistic and integrated solutions to support our tenants. 

To hear more about best practices for fire safety and to join the discussion surrounding the Scottish Government's new standards on fire safety for social landlords, come along to our Property Repairs and Asset Management Conference in September which is available to book now!

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