How this fire happened
A faulty electrical intake caused a serious fire in the cellar of a public house.
The damage could have been so much worse if it wasn’t for the fact that the premises had undergone a Fire Safety Audit a few weeks previously and that the responsible person had started to address some identified fire safety deficiencies, which helped to prevent the spread of this fire.
The current fire safety legislation applying to England and Wales is the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
This legislation applies to the majority of non-domestic premises and a core requirement is that the responsible person carries out a fire risk assessment to identify what fire precautions and other measures need to be applied.
The Government has produced comprehensive guidance to assist with this and the Fire & Rescue Service have a statutory duty to enforce compliance.
During a fire safety audit of this pub, carried out by East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, several fire safety concerns were raised, including:
Upgrading the fire alarm system to give early warning of fires.
Clearing combustible materials from the basement and stairwells.
Providing staff with fire training; and
Providing additional fire protection and separation to the stairs.
These improvements required a substantial financial commitment by the owners.
These works were nearly completed when one evening, with the pub busy with customers, the fire started. Staff were alerted when the upgraded fire alarm system gave early warning, allowing the recently trained staff to quickly and safely evacuate the premises through the cleared exit routes.
The bar and business areas suffered only light smoke damage due to the added fire protection and separation to the stairs. Had these works not been completed the outcome may well have been very different.
The effect it had
"Late last year (2011), we received a fire safety audit by the Fire & Rescue Service. As a result of this audit, a few issues were raised that required immediate attention, and some structural work that we were given a timeline to complete within.
At first, I personally was shocked at how much work was required by me, as the licensee of a public house that had Bed and Breakfast rooms, and the complacency that I had taken with fire safety.
Once I had worked my way through the timeline of structural work, (we almost had it completed), we in fact had a fire that was contained by the structural work that at that stage had been completed.
No one was injured and the staff worked accordingly to our emergency plan (which had only been created a few months before), and the damage although expensive and heart breaking, almost certainly would have been worse had it not been for our renewed works – both structural and managerial.
Irony is a scary thing, but I am thankful for the diligence of the Fire & Rescue Service, and now see that although initially, my thoughts weren’t what they are now, the audit itself is not only a legal requirement you need to meet, but a chance to review what the majority of us would take in our stride.
Thankful Public House Manager."
Regulation can often be seen as burdensome and the Fire & Rescue Service is very aware of the difficulties that businesses face in managing compliance.
In enforcement of the Fire Safety Order, Fire & Rescue Services will always be as helpful as possible in assisting businesses to achieve compliance and will generally in the first instance, seek to educate and inform.
However we are aware that in many instances people feel that a fire will never happen to them and occasionally will challenge the need to address fire safety issues.
Fire kills and fire destroys businesses and figures show that 80% of businesses that suffer a serious fire fail within 18 months, as despite being insured for losses their customers are often long gone.
If someone dies in a fire and it is shown that failings in compliance with the Fire Safety Order was a factor, then businesses and individuals could face unlimited fines and or a custodial sentence.
This case clearly shows the benefits of complying with the law and providing appropriate fire precautions.
Further useful information on the Fire Safety order is available, including freely downloadable guidance and advice on Business Continuity.
Finally – you may wish to look at other cases illustrated on the Black Museum site as a key part of any fire risk assessment is identifying potential ignition sources – something that the Black Museum aims to highlight.