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Fire safety in care homes

Fire safety in care homes

There are many challenges to managing fire safety in a care home. Elderly people are often less mobile; they may use walking sticks or wheelchairs, or be unable to walk without assistance. It can be a struggle for many to move around easily. Emergency evacuation is not a straightforward procedure.

Vulnerable people may have a slower reaction time to fire alarms. Conditions such as dementia will cause confusion and forgetfulness, leading to ovens not being turned off, or cigarettes not being properly extinguished.

A 2014/15 government report found that 41% of all fatalities from fires in England were people aged 65 and over. This makes the elderly 10 times more likely to die in a fire than younger people.

All of this means that care homes are at high risk of fire and their fire safety procedures need to be more complex than in other residences.

Top tips

Fire risk assessments

By law, all care homes must have a fire risk assessment. This needs to be regularly checked and updated. The fire risk assessment must show that reasonable precautions to protect residents and employees have been taken.

Frequent checks of the building need to be made. Things to look out for include:

  • Fire doors are closing properly and are not wedged or propped open
  • Fire extinguishers are present and in working order
  • Fire hazards such as faulty electrical equipment or overloaded power sockets are dealt with
  • Evacuation routes are clear of obstacles
  • General housekeeping — anything can turn lethal if it comes into contact with the heat of a fire, so keep areas tidy to reduce this risk and keep people safe.

Click here for more information on fire risk assessments.

Fire safety training

Training should be spread out throughout the year and all staff should be trained in how to use fire extinguishers. All employees need fire safety training on their first day.

It’s important that all staff know what to do when the fire alarm sounds. What is the evacuation plan? Who are the fire marshals?

How many fire marshals do we need?

A care home is considered a high risk premises so the number of fire marshals recommended is as follows:

Fewer than 15 employees/residents — At least one fire marshal

15-50 employees/residents — At least two fire marshals

For every additional 50 — One additional fire marshal.

It’s important to remember that all shifts must be adequately covered, so you may have to nominate additional fire marshals to ensure there are enough fire marshals for each shift.

For more detailed information on fire marshals, Surrey Fire & Safety has a useful guide.

Fire drills

The law says that fire drills need to be done, as a minimum, once a year. However all employees must do a drill at least once a year, so you may need to do more than one if people are not in on drill day or if new employees are hired.

Fire drills need to be recorded in the fire risk assessment. If any particular risks or hazards are identified, these also need to be noted and steps taken to remove these.

Evacuation

In care homes there should be a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) in place for each individual resident, detailing their needs and requirements. All staff should have access to, and be made aware of, these PEEPs.

It can be useful to set the fire alarm off and record each resident’s response and reaction to it. In some cases, a loud continuous noise can provoke unexpected reactions including violent outbursts or even seizures.

Horizontal evacuation might be required in a care home, which means moving residents to safe parts of the building, away from the fire. This method is used if residents are bedbound, for example, and it is difficult to do a full evacuation.

This method is dependent on passive fire resistance, i.e. walls, floors and doors need to be fire resistant so the fire does not spread.

For further information on passive fire resistance and the spread of fire, click here.

If residents are smokers, a separate smoking risk assessment is important.

Fire alarms

Resident welfare needs to be taken into consideration when testing alarms. Ensure that the test is done at the same time every week and that residents are warned.

It is a requirement for care homes to have an L1 fire alarm system. These are automatic fire detection systems designed to cover the whole building, including unused areas such as roof spaces. L1 systems are designed to have the earliest possible warning of fire for everyone in the building. This is particularly important in care homes as residents will need more time to evacuate safely.

It’s very important to stick to a fire alarm maintenance schedule to ensure the alarm system is in good working order.

Fire doors

Fire doors prevent the spread of smoke and fire. In the event of an emergency, employees will have the hard task of going around and informing the residents. Faith in the doors can help instil a sense of calm.

A fire door is heavy, and needs to be closed to serve its purpose. If you are an elderly resident in a care home, closed fire doors can be isolating. They are difficult to open and can cause injury if they close too quickly. This might mean residents stay in their room as they are concerned about moving through a heavy door safely.

It might be tempting to prop or wedge a fire door open but this is dangerous. If a fire door is wedged open, it won’t close in an emergency and fire and smoke will spread rapidly. This is particularly dangerous in care settings as residents will need more time to evacuate or will be unable to evacuate without assistance.

Deaf residents

Deaf or hard of hearing residents will be unable to hear a fire alarm. A system with flashing lights might be appropriate. Fireco’s Deafgard is placed under the pillow and vibrates and lights up when an alarm sounds. If a pager system is preferred, DMS alerts people by text message in an emergency.

Common sense is always useful when it comes to fire safety. If you see something that looks like a fire hazard, remove it, or speak to the person that can. Keep your risk assessment updated and ongoing and make sure everyone knows exactly what to do in an emergency. Knowledge and safety go hand in hand.

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Closed fire doors save lives. They prevent fire spreading through a building, which gives people more time to evacuate. But closed fire doors also hugely hinder access throughout a building.

Silent evacuation of a care home

Evacuating a care home has its own unique challenges. Elderly residents could be bedbound, suffering from dementia, hard of hearing, or unable to move without assistance. Added to this is the distress that a loud fire alarm can cause to vulnerable residents.

Is it illegal to wedge open a fire door?

Is it illegal to wedge open a fire door?

It is dangerous to wedge or prop open a fire door as the safety of occupants cannot be guaranteed if there is a fire. Fire doors need to be closed to prevent the spread of fire and smoke.

Legally, if you wedge open a fire door and it is judged that this puts someone’s life at risk, you could suffer penalties, including some hefty fines.

A recent case saw a Bath restaurant owner handed a prison sentence for fire safety failings. The Eastern Eye restaurant had multiple safety issues, including wedged open, broken and ill-fitting fire doors. The owner received a sentence of nine months imprisonment, reduced to six months for an early guilty plea, suspended for 12 months. He was also fined £70,000.

Steve Quinton, Group Manager of Avon Fire & Rescue Service, said: “The sentence handed out by the judge in this case shows what can happen if a business doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously.”

Why are fire doors necessary?

Fire doors are provided, at considerable expense, to prevent the spread of fire and smoke through a building. They are specially designed to withstand fire for a certain amount of time. This will protect building occupants while they safely evacuate.

In the event of a fire, fire doors stop smoke spreading into corridors and stairs — provided they are shut. This ensures people have a safe route out of the building. Fire doors also protect the building and its contents against damage from a rapidly spreading fire.

A closed fire door is usually achieved with a self-closing device or free-swing device. Fire doors are a vital part of a building’s fire strategy, and can only do their job if they are closed.

A wedged door prevents a fire door from closing, which means the fire can spread, putting all occupants in danger. Fire doors are clearly marked with a sign stating ‘Fire door, keep shut’. If you see a fire door that is held open, whether that’s with a door wedge, fire extinguisher, chair, pot plant or anything else, you need to make sure the obstruction is removed so the door stays closed.

Fire doors can be held open legally with certain devices that will allow the door to automatically close if the alarm sounds. Click here to find out more.

Invalidating insurance

In the event of a fire, it is quite possible that an insurer would be unwilling to pay for damages when a door has been wedged or propped open. The majority of fire doors will hold a fire in a room for 30 minutes by which time the Fire & Rescue service will be on site. Wedging open doors can, and has, caused a chimney effect, which causes fire to spread rapidly, destroying entire buildings.

Wedging or propping open a fire door can prove devastating as it allows fire to spread unchecked, putting lives and buildings at risk. Despite this, 64% of premises visited by the Fire Service have fire doors wedged open.

As you can see, the stark reality is that wedging open fire doors can lead to catastrophic consequences. It has a knock-on effect which isn’t limited to paying a huge fine; it can also lead to prison sentences and ultimately loss of life.

But it’s not as simple as saying don’t wedge that door. We want fire doors open, as they are a nuisance in everyday life. We know they can be heavy, cause obstruction and even injuries.

Why do people wedge open fire doors?

Despite the dangers and risk of legal penalties for wedging open fire doors, people still do it. Closed doors are a pain. They get in the way if you’re trying to carry a tray of drinks or your luggage. They hinder access if you’re using a wheelchair or walking stick or pushing a buggy. They can cause a room to be hot and stuffy by restricting the flow of air.

Fire doors are heavy and can be a struggle to get through. They can be difficult to open, particularly for frailer people, those with mobility issues, or young children at schools and nurseries.

However leaving fire doors wedged or propped open disregards the safety of others. It is also against the law. The only safe way for fire doors to be held open is with special devices, such as Dorgard, that close them automatically on the sound of the alarm.

It’s time to kick the wedge!

The common door wedge is our enemy here at Fireco. As we’ve seen, when fire doors are wedged open, they aren’t able to to do their job properly, and this puts people’s lives at risk.

Send us your wedge pictures!

Join our kick the wedge campaign! Send us your images of badly wedged or propped open fire doors. We’ll post your pictures on our website and on our Twitter page. Either tweet us your pictures @Fireco using #kickthewedge or email us contact@fireco.uk using the subject line ‘Kick the wedge’.

Below you’ll see a few shocking examples we’ve seen, or people have sent us. Fire doors should not be propped open with bricks, fire extinguishers, chairs, wedges or anything else just found lying around!

Fire safety starts with a thorough risk assessment to assess the individual needs of a building.The Fire Safety Advice Centre has a good guide to risk assessments here.

When fire doors are wedged or propped open, businesses are at risk of fines, but more seriously, it puts people’s lives in danger. Don’t pay the price of the door wedge.

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Everything you need to know about hotel fire safety

Everything you need to know about hotel fire safety

Here are our top tips for complying with fire regulations if you work in a hotel:

1. Everything starts with a fire risk assessment. All hotels, whatever the size, must complete one. Regular checks of the building need to be made to ensure that fire doors are not damaged in any way. Fire doors must be kept closed and not wedged open. Hazards, such as frayed wiring or blocked escape routes, must be removed.

2. Risk assessments should be ongoing. All risks must be noted and dealt with as soon as possible, rather than a ‘tick-box’ exercise carried out once a year.

Still confused about fire risk assessments? Click here for our quick and handy guide.

3. Staff training is vital to ensure hotel fire safety. All employees need to be able to identify and report fire risks, as well as knowing all escape routes, and what to do in an emergency. Try to spread out fire training across the year. This includes evacuation drills, how to use a fire blanket, fire extinguisher training and how to change the lint filters in tumble dryers.

4. Make sure that there is a clear evacuation route in case of emergency. Watch out for the following hazards:

  • Wedged open fire doors. If a fire door is wedged open, fire and smoke can spread easily rather than being contained. This will make evacuation difficult as corridors will become full of smoke
  • Corridors cluttered with stored furniture will make escape difficult
  • Inaccessible stairwells because of a fire door rendered useless with a door wedge
  • Confusing signs

Banish dangerous door wedges forever with products that hold your fire doors open legally. Click here for more information.

Quick tips — a visual guide

Don’t prop open fire doors. Whether it’s with Henry the hoover, a fire extinguisher, a plant, a brick or a door wedge, fire doors need to remain closed to prevent the spread of smoke and fire.

Ensure escape routes are not blocked and kept clear.

 

Keep fire doors in good condition. Locking this damaged door won’t stop those gaps allowing smoke and fire to rage through. This fire door is completely useless.

A fire has traumatic consequences if preventative measures aren’t in place. Fines, closure and loss of reputation can follow a fire, as well as the risk of someone dying.

What does the law say?

The Fire Safety Order (FSO) is the current law in England and Wales. This states that one ‘responsible person’ (usually the owner or manager) is in charge of compliance. This ‘responsible person’ can nominate a ‘competent person’ to receive the fire training and ensure day-to-day compliance with regulations if they prefer.

Common breaches of fire regulations in hotels

Fire safety experts checked a group of 17 hotels in Liverpool, Sheffield, Birmingham and Manchester. They found issues which breached fire regulations in almost every one. What were the most common things they encountered?

  • Ill-fitting doors in frames
  • Damaged fire doors
  • Fire and smoke seals in poor condition
  • Fire doors wedged open

What are the penalties?

In England and Wales, a breach of fire regulations used to result in a fine of up to £5,000 in the Magistrates’ courts unlike the Crown Court where the penalty was an unlimited fine and/or prison.

Now, the penalty in the Magistrates’ Court is an unlimited fine and the person responsible for fire safety will be prosecuted as an individual, not as a company. This means that in future, less cases need to go to the Crown Court and fines can increase, especially if you have a significant turnover. On top of this, any enforcement action is published online for everyone to see.

Here are some of the heftiest recorded fines that the UK hotel industry has seen.

5. White Swan Hotel, Arundel, 2007
£25,000
When a fire broke out at the White Swan Hotel, 10 guests were left trapped in their bedrooms. The guests were rescued, but subsequent investigations found a list of serious fire safety breaches.

  • Fire doors were wedged open
  • Fire alarms weren’t tested correctly
  • Staff did not have adequate fire safety training
  • Fire alarm panel was switched to ‘silent’ mode.
  • No suitable emergency plan in case of a fire.

4. Tantons Hotel, Bideford, 2011
£40,000
Tantons Hotel was ordered to pay £40,000 in fines and after being condemned for breaching fire safety regulations. 55 guests narrowly escaped serious injury or death after a fire broke out. At 4am:

  • The fire alarm failed
  • A guest was sent back to their room when fire was spreading through the building and
  • A fire exit was blocked by cans of cooking oil
  • An elderly guest was fearful for her life when she was trapped between a fire exit which failed to open and another door that had no handle. The judge commented that the hotel was a ‘death trap.’

3. The Belfry Hotel, Cheshire, 2008
£75,000
Firefighters carried out a routine visit to this luxury hotel and discovered their inadequate safety precautions were putting their guests at serious risk. They found:

  • No working fire alarms
  • Faulty smoke detectors
  • Poor fire exits
  • Lack of fire safety training for staff.
  • The hotel was immediately closed but re-opened after the issues were resolved and the required equipment fitted.

2. The Radnor Hotel, London, 2015
£200,000
The former owner of The Radnor Hotel was fined £200,000 — the biggest ever fine from the London Fire Brigade, after a routine inspection found several serious fire safety breaches.

  • Missing fire doors
  • No fire risk assessment
  • Inadequate fire detection systems and emergency lighting
  • Fire doors were tied open using string, extension cords and an extinguisher used as a wedge
  • The former owner was also given a four month prison sentence.

1. The Chumleigh Lodge Hotel, London, 2012
£210,000
The offences date back to 2008. The fire brigade were called when a fire spread rapidly from a first floor bedroom to the second floor. Three people escaped. After the fire, fire inspectors found 12 offences including:

  • Obstructed fire escape routes
  • No smoke alarms
  • Defective fire doors
  • Unsuitable fire risk assessment and no staff training
  • The case was a landmark hearing, as it was the first time a jury convicted a defendant rather than a judge or magistrate.

A fire has traumatic consequences if preventative measures aren’t in place. Fines, closure and loss of reputation can follow a fire, as well as the risk of someone dying.

Compliance doesn’t need to be complicated or difficult for you, we can help, with solutions that make compliance easy. And maybe you can avoid a situation like this one!

 

Sources. FDIS, FIA, https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/do-you-have-paying-guests

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Fire safety measures in schools

Fire safety measures in schools

The cost of a school fire can be huge. Lives are at risk. Fire damage is not only expensive to repair, it causes disruption and can even affect exam results, and staff and pupil morale.

What measures do schools need to take to minimise the risk of fire, keep everyone safe and comply with fire regulations?

Fire risk assessments

All schools must complete a fire risk assessment. This needs to be updated regularly. Fire risk assessments identify what precautions are needed to prevent fires in schools.

They also need to identify what happens if a fire does break out, and how people can evacuate easily and safely.

You will need to:

  • Ensure procedures are in place to reduce the likelihood of fire
  • Maintain fire detection and alarm systems
  • Ensure staff and pupils are familiar with emergency evacuation procedures.

It is important that:

  • Fire risk assessments are kept up to date
  • Fire precautions remain current and adequate (they should be reviewed in detail when significant alterations are made to a school’s premises).

The Department for Communities and Local Government has produced a guide for schools — fire safety risk assessment: educational premises. The guide deals with the provision and management of fire safety.

Quick tips for fire safety in schools

Day-to-day there are some very simple measures you can take to make sure your school is fire safe, and prevent risk to life and property. Make sure that:

  • Fire doors are in good working order
  • Evacuation plans are up to date
  • Regular fire drills are undertaken
  • Means of escape routes are kept clear and have no obstructions
  • Fire doors are not wedged open
  • Rubbish and waste is removed from the building and stored in secure bins that cannot be accessed by intruders
  • High value equipment is out of sight in a locked separate room.

Think about areas might be high risk in your school. Are chemicals stored correctly in the science lab? Is there a procedure to ensure all Bunsen burners are turned off and safely stored? If you have a lighting rig in the hall or drama department, has it been tested to ensure it is safe?

Arson

Arson is the act of intentionally setting fire to buildings, areas, vehicles or any other type of property and is one of the leading causes of school fires.

Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service has recommendations for preventing arson at schools including:

  • Maintain an effective intruder alarm system that is connected to a call-monitoring centre.
  • Obtain advice on lighting and CCTV from the local Crime Reduction Officer
  • Ensure all doors windows and skylights are secure. A nominated person should be responsible for making sure all doors and windows are closed and locked at the end of each day
  • Remove graffiti immediately. If it’s left, vandals might start to see the school as a target
  • Maintain good relationships with neighbours and encourage them to contact the police if they see anything unusual.

For more information, click here for Mersey Fire and Rescue’s full guidance on arson risk in schools.

Sprinkler systems

Sprinklers are mandatory in new school buildings in Scotland and Wales but not in England and Northern Ireland.

However the national Fire Chiefs Council has criticised this and recommends that sprinklers are fitted in all new school buildings.

The damaging effect of fire

On the morning of Sunday 21st August 2016, there were over 60 calls to 999 as fire broke out on the roof of the Selsey Academy near Chichester.  

An eyewitness who lives near the school said there were: “plumes and plumes of black smoke towering above the house, rather like an apocalypse”.

Firefighters drove through miles of dense, black smoke as they rushed to the scene. Up to 100 firefighters tackled the fire, which is thought to have started at around 8am, bringing it under control in the late afternoon.

The school suffered extensive damage, leaving it in ruins.

While the school begins the long and expensive task of rebuilding, the pupils are starting the year in temporary classrooms.

The cost of ignoring fire safety

Hekmat Kaveh, the owner of one of Britain’s top independent schools was ordered to pay nearly £50,000 for risking pupils’ lives by having inadequate fire safety measures.

Kaveh, who owns and manages Abbey College in Malvern, Worcestershire, admitted 15 fire safety breaches when he appeared in court. He was fined £24,000 for the offences and ordered to pay £25,000 court costs.

Worcester Crown Court heard that the school allowed children to sleep in boarding houses which had faulty smoke alarms and non-functional fire doors.

Judge Michael Cullum commented that Kaveh’s fire risk assessment was “woefully inadequate” and that he had “both a moral and legal responsibility for the staff and children. The consequences of a fire would have been disastrous”.

Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service brought the prosecution against Kaveh after inspectors visited the school in March 2011. Kaveh told the court: “Clearly, I was let down by those people employed and instructed to review the fire assessment at the start of the year, but the law is clear in that the employer is the responsible person and for that reason I had no option but to plead guilty.

“The college now meets all regulatory requirements. Obviously the fire assessments were reviewed when I was made aware of this by external contractors.”

Following sentencing, deputy chief officer Richard Lawrence said: “This was an extremely serious case where those living and sleeping inside the premises were being put at risk.

“Business owners have a clear responsibility to ensure that both the public and their employees are as safe as possible from the risk of fire.

“This verdict sends out a clear message: in severe cases where responsibilities are ignored, we will prosecute, as it is never acceptable to put lives at risk.”

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How to prevent the spread of fire

After the tragedy at Grenfell Tower, fire safety is an issue on everyone’s minds. Questions are being asked about inadequate safety measures causing fire to spread rapidly through buildings with large numbers of occupants.

The Grenfell Tower investigation is ongoing, but clearly fire protection measures either failed or were not there in the first place. It is important to address how disasters like this can avoided in the future.

Keeping fire contained

To prevent a fire from spreading, different sections of a building must be built as fire-resistant compartments. This means they will resist the passage of fire for a specified period of time. If a fire is contained in a compartment, it won’t spread to other parts of the building. People can evacuate safely and firefighters can extinguish the fire.

In a tower block, for instance, each flat should be a separate, fire resistant compartment. This would ensure that if one resident started a fire, it would not spread to other flats for a specified amount of time (usually 30 minutes).

Day-to-day, the most important way for a building’s occupants to keep a building safe is through keeping fire doors closed. Fire doors are specially made to resist fire for a certain amount of time and keep the fire contained within that compartment. If the door is open, the fire will spread rapidly. This is why wedging open fire doors is so dangerous.

Fireco has products that keep fire doors open, enabling them to close on the sound of the alarm. This improves access while still keeping people safe and complying with fire regulations. Click here to find out more.

Compartmentation keeps a fire contained, giving time for emergency services to deal with the situation. People should also be able to evacuate safely and damage to a building is minimised.

Make sure you are aware of holes and gaps in the walls from installing piping and wiring through a building. When you drill holes through a building to run cables and those holes aren’t filled in, you severely compromise any fire safety plans in place. If a fire starts, it will spread through any gaps, igniting anything flammable in its path.

Keep people informed

Hand in hand with compartmentation is the need for all building users to have clear information on what is the safest action to take, whether that is to stay put and await the fire service, or evacuate safely.

It is important to note that a building’s occupants should only be advised to stay put if compartmentation measures are in place. If fire doors, and fire resistant wall and ceiling protection materials are inadequate, it is NOT SAFE for building users to be advised to stay put. Under these circumstances, occupants should evacuate as quickly as possible.

Evacuation routes need to be clearly marked, all building users, including visitors, need to be informed of fire safety procedures, and information has to be readily available at all times so people can check anything if they are unsure.

All landlords, building owners, managers, and other responsible people have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements. Buildings must be effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire.

A thorough risk assessment must be carried out to make sure that all buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place. The Fire Safety Advice Centre has a good guide to risk assessments here. When regulations are breached, lives are at risk.

Lessons from Lakanal House

Unfortunately, lessons were not learned from the Lakanal House tower block fire. Southwark Council was fined £570,000 for a 2009 tower block fire in which six people were killed. The London Fire Brigade brought the prosecution against the council as Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, had a number of structural and safety issues which breached fire regulations.

During the investigation into the cause of the fire, it was revealed that 999 operators had told residents to stay in their flats. This meant that some residents were trapped when the fire spread more rapidly than anticipated.

Stay put was the wrong advice

Emergency service operators were rightly following the ‘stay put’ procedure for tower blocks which has been in place since the 1990s. When dealing with emergency situations, 999 operators offer advice based on the assumption that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place, for example that fire doors would be closed and not wedged open and fire resistant materials would be incorporated into the building’s walls and ceilings. These measures prevent flames and smoke from spreading.

However, this was not the case at Lakanal House. There were inadequate compartmentation measures in place including an absence of strips or seals on doors in the buildings, a lack of cavity barriers in the ceilings and inadequate fire protection to the timber stairs in the common corridor.

At the inquest, Peter Holland, Chief Fire and Rescue advisor for the Communities and Local Government department, stated that correct compartmentation is vital for the ‘stay put’ policy in tower blocks to be safe. This would have kept the fire contained for one hour while the emergency services dealt with the situation. As the correct measures were not in place in Lakanal House, the fire spread at an alarmingly fast rate.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the situation, there was no clear guidance for operators on what was the safest action to take for residents of Lakanal House. According to Peter Holland, this would have been for residents to be told to evacuate if they felt they were in jeopardy.

Who is responsible?

Dan Daly, London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe.”

It is essential that risk assessments are carried out to make sure that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place. Closed fire doors and other fire-resistant structures are vital to prevent the spread of fire in a building, so the fire can be contained and residents can stay safe or evacuate. When these regulations are breached, lives are at risk.

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