A smoke alarm victory

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Graham Ellicot, CEO of the Fire Industry Association details the long campaign to ensure that smoke alarms are installed in all privately rented homes…

In May 2011 I attended a seminar in the Palace of Westminster given by Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (FRS) to the ‘All Party Fire and Rescue Group’ concerning fire safety in rented accommodation, which called for the fitting of hard-wired smoke alarms at the change of a tenancy. The presentation contained compelling detailed evidence gathered throughout the UK which indicated that the fitting of hard-wired smoke alarms in rented accommodation would save a score or more lives per year, and that this was a cost effective measure to further drive down the annual number of fire deaths.

Roughly 18 months later I was in Scotland, in part to hear an update on the Devon & Somerset FRS work. This well written and researched study was ‘pushed’ by Adrian Sanders MP in his Fire Safety (Protection of Tenants) Private Members Bill. The update in question described a unique toolbox approach to fire safety in rented accommodation.

Indeed at that time, Building Regulations already required the installation of automatic smoke detectors to new dwellings, loft conversions and circulation spaces to extended dwelling. All dwellings were to be fitted with a fire detection and fire alarm system in accordance with BS 5839-6:2004-Grade D-category LD3 standards.

However the government disagreed with the view from Devon & Somerset FRS and the second reading of Adrian Sanders’ bill was delayed on several occasions and, in March 2012, the bill failed to complete its passage through the House of Commons and thus could make no further progress. Had the bill had government support then it is likely that it would have eventually become law. It was difficult then to see any reason other than that of political dogma as to why the government should have failed to support the bill; the dogma in question being the question of extra regulation and red tape problems for landlords.

Adrian Sanders’ proposed bill arose out of the deaths by fire of two children in his Torbay constituency. The fire occurred in October 2009 in housing association rented accommodation, and a Devon & Somerset FRS spokesman made the following comments at the time; “There were no smoke alarms in the property. This is an absolutely horrific incident, the worst that I have been confronted with in 26 years.”

The government was well aware of fire deaths in rented accommodation as Penelope Schofield, the West Sussex Coroner, wrote to them asking that wired smoke alarms be a legal requirement for private landlords’ rented accommodation. This request followed three separate fire deaths in West Sussex where battery operated smoke alarms were fitted but the batteries had been removed.

The West Sussex Coroner was quoted as saying, “We’ve got to remember the private rented sector houses some of the most vulnerable people in society.” Ms. Schofield went on to say; “You may have people who have alcohol problems who would rather spend the money on drink than fitting a new battery; you’ve got elderly people suffering with dementia, they might not even realise that the battery is no longer working or that the battery has been removed.”

Indeed, Penelope Schofield was not alone in her views as a BBC report quoted a spokesman from the Residential Landlords Association who said after the West Sussex’s Coroner’s actions that making mains-connected smoke alarms a legal requirement of private landlords was a good idea.

Plus, the Westminster Government was then out of step with Scotland where the Repairing Obligations require smoke alarms to be fitted in rented accommodation.

And then there was talk in late 2013 of the government considering smoke detection and carbon monoxide alarms as part of an Energy Bill. That interest in part spawned, in February 2014, a Policy Paper entitled ‘Review of property conditions in the private rented sector’ which included two questions concerning smoke detection and carbon monoxide alarms.

In May 2014, Nick Raynsford MP called on the government to make the provision of smoke alarms mandatory via the introduction of a 10-Minute Rule Bill in the House of Commons to require smoke alarms to be installed in all privately rented homes. The Bill received significant cross-party support and MPs voted in its favour by 245:8.

And now roll forward to March 2015 and the Communities and Local Government Department (DCLG) has made the following announcement:

Landlords will be required by law to install working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms in their properties, under measures announced by Housing Minister Brandon Lewis today (11 March 2015).The move will help prevent up to 26 deaths and 670 injuries a year.

The measure is expected to take effect from October 2015, and comes with strong support after a consultation on property condition in the private rented sector.”

Simply put, the FIA welcomes this announcement which is due to the hard work by many parties over the years including the MPs Adrian Sanders and Nick Raynsford, Devon & Somerset FRS, CFOA and the various Coroners who have had people die in their ‘jurisdiction’ where there have been no smoke detectors.

Based upon DCLG’s own numbers, by the time the law requiring the installation of working smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms is enacted there could, since the death of the two children in Torbay, have been 156 preventable deaths and 4,020 preventable injuries.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The measure of a country’s greatness should be based on how well it cares for its most vulnerable populations”. I wonder what he’d think about a six year wait since the horrific fire in Adrian Sanders’ constituency that killed two children.

Graham Ellicot

Chief Executive Officer

Fire Industry Association (FIA)

Tel: +44 (0)203 166 5002

info@fia.uk.com

www.fia.uk.com

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