Professional Comment

Fire Safety In Care Homes: How To Engage Your Team In This Vital Area

By Margaret Tempest, training lead at Church Farm Care, which provides specialist dementia care across several homes –

Why is a detailed fire safety plan so important?
It is imperative to ensure everyone can evacuate safely in the event of a fire. Fire safety is crucial in minimising the risk of injury or death, even more so in care homes as each resident will have individual needs, such as dementia or reduced mobility that may require additional planning, training, and allocation of staff roles.

Not having a detailed plan and regular training could jeopardise the safety of the vulnerable people we care for. Breaches of regulations can also lead to fines for care providers.

There are statutory requirements we must follow, including having regularly updated fire safety planning, risk assessments and evacuation plans. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) requires that all care home staff have fire safety training.

Why did you engage with a local firefighter as part of your training?
Obtaining expert technical advice on the application and interpretation of fire safety guidance is central to our procedures. We ensure that staff understand the importance of this as fires can spread quickly, risk lives and cause immense damage.

We renew our fire training annually and this year, we were joined by a fire safety consultant and professional firefighter from a Nottinghamshire fire station, to hear his expert views. We learnt how to put out a fire efficiently and safely and heard real-life examples of the fires his crew had responded to and their causes.

We then had a practical demonstration outside, putting out a fire using water, foam, CO2, dry powder and wet chemical extinguishers. That was helpful as people can often be anxious about using them.

It was a detailed and informative session and we had excellent feedback from staff, who have also applied some of the advice at home, such as ensuring their smoke alarms are working.

How often do you hold fire safety training sessions?
We conduct annual and refresher sessions and all our new colleagues receive training on arrival. We also have nominated fire marshals.

Staff are trained to evacuate the building immediately in line with the home’s plan, going to the nearest designated fire assembly point, while remaining as calm as possible and helping others.

They are also trained in fire prevention measures and emergency procedures and have regular drills.

What other fire safety precautions should a care home take?
Our up-to-date fire risk assessment is reviewed regularly and the fire alarm system that runs throughout each home is fully serviced.

We also ensure:
• Regular fire alarm and escape lighting tests
• Regular inspections of fire safety equipment
• The correct fire extinguishers are in the right places and the fully operational fire doors are checked regularly – these can slow the speed of the fire spreading
• Each home has trained and nominated staff to assist with evacuation in each part of the building
• The ‘firebox’ in each manager’s office includes equipment such as two-way radios, torches and reflective jackets

What regulations must you abide by?
Fire safety regulations for UK care homes are primarily governed by the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 which places responsibilities on those involved in fire safety, such as registered managers. The primary duty is with the care provider as the employer, known as the ‘responsible person’, and you can read specialist guidance here.

The CQC assesses fire safety as part of its inspections; care homes that fail to comply with its fire service recommendations could see their CQC rating affected.

What extra measures are needed in a dementia specialist care home?
The evacuation of residents in the event of a fire, especially at night, can be challenging. People might not be very mobile, so staff need to help each person while avoiding confusing them.

Our fireboxes contain the details of all residents and their level of mobility and dependency. They are moved horizontally to a safe area, ahead of the fire, which gives staff enough time to reach everyone. Wheelchairs or medical beds must pass freely through all doors.

Knowing their loved ones are well looked after in their care home is of the utmost importance to families. That’s why fire safety is vital to our procedures and staff training, keeping our staff and family members safe and building trust in those that use our service.