“Approximately half of those killed by fires in the home are aged 65 or over” states the North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service*. Older people are often more vulnerable when it comes to accidents and emergencies which places a huge importance on fire safety in care homes. Vulnerability can be down to various reasons, such as, mobility issues, reduced senses, such as not being able to smell, and health issues that can lead to a lack of awareness, such as dementia.
Self closing fire doors have a valuable role in protecting residents in the case of a fire. They create a fire safe compartment which prevents fire from spreading rapidly through a building and allowing time for a safe escape, or rescue from the fire brigade. However, in the daily lives of elderly residents, these heavy self closing doors can be very problematic.
Here are some of the ways that fire doors can affect the lives of residents:
- Some residents may be injured by fire doors closing too quickly on them, causing them to fall or get bruises.
- Residents in wheelchairs, on crutches or have temporary mobility issues, may find that they have trouble with access.
- Residents may feel isolated or lonely due to their door being constantly closed, especially if they are living alone.
- Due to the weight of fire doors they often slam shut. This may be disruptive, and could even wake residents up during the night.
- Residents may want to open the doors and windows to allow fresh air to flow through their living space, especially if they struggle to go out. However, closed fire doors will limit the ventilation in the room.
- Fire doors can be very heavy, meaning some residents will need assistance getting through. This can reduce independence and they may even feel trapped in their own home if they can’t get through the doors alone.
These reasons could lead to residents in sheltered housing and care homes to wedge open their fire doors. However, fire doors can only serve their purpose if they are shut.
Click the tabs below for examples of how wedged/closed fire doors have changed the outcome of fires in care homes.
**In 2005, Rhos Priory care home suffered an electrical fire in the laundry room. Residents were told by staff to remain in the rooms, but as the fire got out of hand all 35 residents had to be evacuated. Four of them had to be taken to hospital after the fire, but luckily were discharged the same day.
When the firefighters entered the building they found the self closers in the fire doors had been tampered with, stopping them from closing properly. There were also multiple wedged open doors throughout the building. This prevented effective compartmentation and allowed for the smoke and fire to spread. The care home manager was fined for failing to keep residents safe.
***In 2014, Donwell House care home were fined £380,000 after a woman was hospitalised due to a fire. Following an investigation, the Fire & Rescue Service found that the fire and smoke had spread from a bedroom through to the hallway because some of the doors were wedged open. This meant that the residents were not able to use the corridor for a means of escape and one resident had to be rescued from a first floor window.
If the fire doors were not wedged open, the fire would have been contained in one room which would have prevented the fire from spreading.
****In 2015, a fire broke out at Summerlands Care Home due to a tumble dryer fault. Staff evacuated 17 residents and firefighters evacuated 6. When the fire service went to tackle the fire they noticed that it had been contained due to all the fire doors being closed. This meant that the blaze could be extinguished and damage was minimised. Not only this, all the residents were safely evacuated.
This is a perfect example of how fire doors play a vital role in saving lives during a fire.
Wedging doors open is illegal and can lead to major damage to property, business disruption, large fines and even fatalities. Fire doors can be seen as problematic in the daily lives of residents, however in the long run can save lives. There are legal and safe ways to hold open fire doors, whilst also empowering elderly residents.
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