From the previous phase of this work a number of recommendations were made to reduce fire fatalities. These were assessed to identify their potential effectiveness during a review of Fire Investigation reports. The review resulted in further recommendations and a concept strategy for Fire and Rescue Services to identify those most at risk and utilize the most suitable interventions to protect them.
The first phase of a research study investigating fire fatalities in Scotland was reported in Issue 67 of International Fire Fighter magazine, during which it was identified that vulnerable people were most at risk. Data supplied by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) was reviewed and 14 recommendations were proposed by the stakeholder group. These included the broader use of current technologies as well as looking at future technologies to further reduce fire fatalities.
For the final phase of this research study, 123 Fire Investigation (FI) reports were examined and nine of the previous recommendations were assessed to examine their potential effectiveness had they been present during each of the fires. Additionally, a qualitative analysis of each FI report and a quantitative analysis of all FI reports was performed. The qualitative analysis involved reviewing each FI report in its entirety, focusing on which interventions could prevent similar fatalities in the future. For the quantitative analysis, the data from all FI reports was collectively reviewed to address 23 key questions (shown in Table 1) posed by the stakeholder group.
Table 1: The 23 key questions posed by the stakeholder group
- Were there working smoke alarms present?
- Were there any issues that prevented people from escaping?
- Were any accelerants present?
- Were doors left open that supported the fire development?
- Was there an ‘at risk’ individual/s known to external agencies?
- Was the individual under the effects of drugs, alcohol or medication?
- Did the person live alone?
- Did smoke alarm/s operate during fire?
- If not, why did the smoke alarm/s not operate?
- Did the fire spread beyond the room of origin?
- If in a flat, did it spread beyond the flat of origin?
- Which item first ignited?
- How long did it take to discover the fire?
- How many fatalities were outside the room of origin?
- How many fatalities were inside the room of origin?
- How many fatalities were directly involved in the fire?
- How many people were rescued in the flat of origin?
- How many people were rescued beyond the flat of origin?
- Would sprinklers present have made any difference?
- Why would sprinklers present have made the difference?
- Would earlier warning have been provided with smoke/heat alarm/s?
What was the attendance time from ignition?
What was the level of disability of the fatality?
Other data within the FI reports was also examined, such as the presence of emollient creams. Additionally, the confirmed causes of death, blood alcohol levels, cases of people smoking or cooking under the influence of alcohol, fires involving smoking materials and key findings from the toxicology data of the FI report were investigated.
Review of previous recommendations
From the assessment of the previous recommendations, during the review of FI reports, the following observations were made:
- Providing warning from a locally linked mobile phone to a neighbour or other ‘sentinel’ (as explored during Phase 1) would be expected to lead to a quicker intervention and likely more positive outcome for up to 82% of cases.
- Increasing the sensitivity of smoke alarms at night would have resulted in an earlier warning on 21% of occasions. That combined with the recommendation above would be expected to increase the likelihood of earlier intervention.
- There were occasions during which local residents either tried to tackle the fire themselves, or neighbours upon hearing a sounding smoke alarm, called relatives. These (and other) responses inevitably lead to a delay in SFRS being notified. A direct connection to an alarm receiving centre (ARC) would serve to reduce the reporting time and thereby increase the chances of earlier intervention in 78% of cases.
- The early activation (due to the use of optical smoke alarms) of an approved LPS 1655 water-mist suppression system, during the incipient stage of a fire, was expected to be effective in 90% of all cases. By taking some of the energy out of the fire and covering combustible materials in a layer of water this would be expected to result in a significant reduction in the production of toxic gases. The latter were considered to be the cause of at least 65% of the fatalities.
- Whilst the use of video analytic technology may have provided sufficient warning of a fire in its early stages for 82% of cases, the effectiveness of this depends on interventions in place and presumes that SFRS would be notified directly.
- Electrical fires account for a very small percentage of fires in which fatalities were observed. However, further work is recommended to address the electrical fires that have been reported previously and with a number of high-profile cases of fires started by electrical appliances.
- The recommendation of a government campaign to look out for neighbours relies on them hearing the smoke alarm on activation. In addition, it also relied on neighbours reporting the fire immediately, suggesting that a maximum of 17% may have been saved through the earlier intervention of SFRS.
Analysis of FI reports
During the review of FI reports a number of additional recommendations were proposed that, if adopted, would be expected to lead to a reduction in fire fatalities. These recommendations were targeted at specific groups. These were care package suppliers, manufacturers, public services (NHS, carers/social workers, police, SFRS Fire Investigators, SFRS personnel), the public and research bodies.
Some of the findings from the quantitative analysis are reproduced here, as examples. The item that first ignited is shown in Figure 1 and indicates that a high percentage directly involve bedding, furniture and clothes on or very near the victim. This resulted in recommendations for friends, relatives and public services to look out for dangers and report cases of ‘near misses’ (such as cigarette scorch marks on carpets and upholstery) to the SFRS when visiting vulnerable people.
In terms of the causes of death, toxic gases are directly attributed to 65% of fatalities and potentially a further 7% that fall under ‘toxic gases and burns’ (see Figure 2). Burns, in comparison, are attributed to less than a quarter of those compared to toxic gases.
The data reveals that noxious chemicals released during the incipient and developing stages of the fire are likely to incapacitate victims, preventing them from escaping. If the production of toxic gases was significantly reduced, the victims would have an increased chance of survival. Further research work in this area is recommended to investigate this.
Whilst new and emerging technologies may provide additional protection in the future, this study demonstrated that the increased use of existing technologies could be applied immediately and would be expected to save lives. Some of the recommendations resulting from this review include providing interlinked smoke alarms in bedrooms and living spaces, heat alarms in kitchens and increased use of the certified water-mist systems. In addition, the findings also suggest that improved lines of communication between agencies, neighbours and relatives with the SFRS is crucial when an at-risk person has been identified.
The full set of recommendations is in the briefing paper available from the BRE website.
Recommendations and strategies for fire safety
Whilst a number of recommendations were taken from both the quantitative and qualitative analysis, the more common ones are sorted and reproduced in Figure 3. These are laid out in a flowchart to show when they could be applied and when they would be most effective. Note that a Home Fire Safety Visit (HFSV) is a visit to people’s homes performed by the SFRS, during which they assess fire safety, wellbeing and lifestyle issues that might impact on personal safety.
Cumulative risk factors in combination progressively increase the likelihood of a fatality. Some of the risk factors identified during this study include a person’s age, whether they are smokers, drink alcohol or take prescription drugs or medication. Others include mobility impairments or whether they are hoarders; there was also a dependence on occupancy and the distance from the nearest SFRS station.
With so many factors potentially posing a challenge for Fire and Rescue Services, it becomes increasingly difficult to identify those most at risk and to provide appropriate interventions. To address this, a concept strategy is proposed that accounts for various risk factors by assigning each of them with a weighted numeric score from which an overall ‘risk score’ can be calculated. For those vulnerable individuals with higher risk scores more comprehensive strategies will be proposed to offer additional protection. These are detailed further in the briefing paper.
Potential areas for future research include investigating how reduced ignition propensity cigarettes lead to fires. In addition, further research on common household electrical items leading to fires is proposed. Another area identified was to demonstrate the effectiveness of approved water-mist systems in a typical scenario as observed during this study. These are currently being developed and parties interested in collaborating are invited to contact BRE.
As well as reviewing previous recommendations, this research work has produced a number of additional recommendations designed to assist Fire and Rescue Services in identifying and protecting vulnerable people. This has been made possible thanks to the collaboration of a broad, technical stakeholder group who are now advancing the implementation of these recommendations.
Further international collaborations are being pursued with the aim of identifying risk factors in other countries and proposing suitable measures to reduce local fire fatalities.
For more information, go to https://www.bregroup.com/firesafetyresearch