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Agenda item

West Midlands Fire Service

Jason Holt – Station Commander, Fire Safety, Birmingham and Black Country South



The Group wecomed Jason Holt – Station Commander and Pardeep Raw - Team leader for Black Country North fire safety team - Watch Commander.


The Fire Service had two main areas of focus which were prevention and protection.


In relation to prevention, representatives of the fire Service would go out to businesses to ensure that premises were safe for employees. Operational crews would also carry out safe and well visits with the aim of visiting every domestic dwelling across the West Midlands.


The question was raised as to whether specific staff were assigned to dwellings where vulnerable people lived and it was confirmed that there was a Vulnerable Persons Officer who would be assigned once a vulnerable person had been identified.


The question was raised as to whether the Fire Service were aware of how successful they had been in visiting the 36 tower blocks in the City and whether there were any additional constraints in visiting tenants rather than private home owners.


It was stated that in a tower block the Fire Service would have jurisdiction in the public areas only so could look at areas such as fire escapes and compartmentalisation. As with private dwellings, people living in tower blocks would request a free visit from the fire service.


Site Specific Risk Inspections (SSRI) were also carried out in targeted areas such as tower blocks and every tower block had been highlighted and wold therefore be visited. During the visit the Fire Service would make themselves available to residents and safe and well visits could be carried out there and then or future appointments made.


The Fire Service Confirmed that resources were not an issue and that resources would be planned to accommodate public need. It was confirmed that statistics relating to safe and well visits were available if requested.

The Group recommended that communications regarding the safe and well visits could be increased as there were people who thought they were not entitled to them and confusion over other similar providers who charged for such a service.  The Group agreed on the importance of getting the message out that the service was available, it was provided by the Fire Service and that it was free.


The group agreed that Councillors could help to promote the service in their wards.


The Group queried what the Fire Service did during an inspection.

It was stated that during a SSRI the response side of the service would go out on the fire engine and evaluate means of escape and access, how many residents were in the block, where the water supplies were and any other areas required for a response to a fire. In relation to protection audits were carried out under the Fire safety legislation of all communal areas, every fire door would be checked, stairwells checked and all areas of compartmentalisation.


However, it was confirmed that what went on behind the door of a private dwelling fell under different legislation. The Group queried what would happen if during the inspection, it was noted that a front door was not the recommend type under current guidance. The Fire Service stated that they would highlight this to the resident and write to the Responsible Person which could be the leaseholder or the landlord.


The Group questioned the approach taken during any visit in relation to signage. The Fire Service stated that note would be taken as to whether the signage was adequate, they would point out if it was faulty or did not work and follow this up with the relevant responsible officer. The Group queried whether signage was looked for in different formats such as different languages or braille and stated that signage had to meet the needs of the residents. The Fire Service also confirmed that fire alarms were not always used in blocks of flats as they were not intended for simultaneous evacuation.


The Fire Service confirmed that they did more than a basic look but that it was not usual to consider the demographic of the residents unless the building was designed for a specific need such as a nursing or retirement home in which case the signage would be specific to residents’ needs.


It was also confirmed that all residents were given a booklet informing them of areas such as electrical issues and anything that could affect them in an emergency. This booklet was produced in several languages but not in braille.  It was also confirmed that Fire Service Officers providing training and advice would take time to ensure that residents understood the information contained in the booklet and that they were comfortable with any processes.


The Fire Service stated that in Birmingham there was an agreement regarding Houses in Multiple Occupation that if a tenancy agreement changed that the Landlord would let the Fire Service know and they would arrange to carry out a safe and well visit with the new residents. This was built into the tenancy agreement.


The Fire Service stated that they had a very good relationship with Wolverhampton Homes and that visits had been done and areas for improvement pointed out and timescales agreed. Visits were also often made on an interim basis to see how improvements works were being carried out and in some cases Wolverhampton Homes had invited the Fire Service back to monitor progress.  Should deadlines not be met then the Fire Service would enquire as to the reasons and if progress was still not made then enforcement action could be taken.


Some concern was raised by group members that tenants should not be treated differently to leaseholders and that it would be unfair to expect them to abide by more rules than those who owned their own properties. The Fire Service responses that it made no difference to them who or n what capacity the person was who lived in the premise, everyone was treated in the same way.


The Group queried the role of the Fire Service in relation to the fitting of cladding and it was confirmed that the Fire Services might comment on what the building regulations said or if they saw something in breach of regulations but cladding was not something that was checked during a fire safety audit.

The group considered whether there should be a disability access audit as standard especially as local authorities moved more towards the independent living agenda.


The Group requested clarity as to the stay put advice that had been given in relation to Grenfell. The fire Service stated that this advice was given when a block of flats was not designed for simultaneous evacuation and that stay put had been proven to work in the past and that this advice had been reiterated at tenant meetings.


The Group moved on to considering access issues for the Fire Service when attending a call and whether in most cases they could get close enough to the building. The Fire Service stated that the same procedure was followed whether the call be for a pan fire or if flames were spreading outside of the windows. A pre-determined number of officers would be sent to the scene and plans would be put into place. If these plans did not go as expected, then this would be fed back in and new plans put in place. If the fire crew could not get the required access, then this would again be fed back into the process and fed into any plans for that area.  It was confirmed that a hydraulic platform wold only reach up to 6 floors and a high rise was classed as 8 floors and above. Again, this was an area that had been reconsidered and when looking at cladding all building 6 floors and above were considered.


The Fire Service stated that following Grenfell each brigade had been given a list (there were 600 nationally) showing those buildings which had been identified as cladded. West Midlands Fire Service was at the centre of this operation and were liaising with every fire service across the country. The Fire Service had visited every single block within a week to check areas such as access and egress and whether the cladding was aluminium composite.


There was close liaison with the operational side with response officers looking at their activities considering what had happened and ensuring that all residents were kept informed as to what they were doing. Council representatives also met with the Fire Service at the majority of the tower blocks to help reinforce the message and the work being carried out. If there was cladding on a tower block the advice was then to send a sample to the national testing body and if the cladding failed, then the tower block would be revisited with the Responsible Person and a plan of action drawn up.


It was noted that there was some overlap in legislation regarding responsibility for communal areas. The Fire Service was the enforcing body and where something was discovered in breach of the regulations then the Landlord would be informed. The group queried who was responsible for front doors and it was stated that this depended on the lease agreement, the enforcing authority would still be the Fire Service but who was being enforced against could differ.


The Group queried who was in charge in an emergency fire situation and it was confirmed that this would be the Incident Commander. The Incident Commander would make a tactical plan and if they felt that the situation was escalating they could bring in whatever resources were required to manage the situation.


It was stated that there was currently a very good working relationship between the Fire Service and Wolverhampton Homes with no apparent weaknesses.


The Group queried the data that the Fire Service would have in an emergency and it was stated that crews now had mobile data terminals that allowed them to access data from visits and safe and well checks and included information in access and road width and the type of premises that was on fire (e.g. chemical plant).


The question of sprinklers was raised and the Fire Service stated that yes, they would recommend but only in the same way that they would recommend adequate compartmentalisation as part of ensuring a building had adequate fore precautions in place. Caution was also given to wait until the final report into the Grenfell Tower fire before making recommending and major fire initiative and the cause was still to be determined.


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