many residents have poor sight, mobility issues, are hard of hearing or living with dementia – all adding to the complexity of ensuring systems are appropriately designed.

Hollingshead explained that protecting those with bariatric care requirements and reduced mental capacity causes the most issues and in response, Green went on to offer his insight into the technology designed specifically with vulnerable individuals in mind. He said: “In the event of a fire alarm being activated, visual alarm devices – or VADs – complying to BS EN54-23 are required in locations where they are considered to be the primary source of warning to building occupants.

“Within care homes, this is extremely common so we offer devices which flash brightly to serve as a primary indicator of a fire occurrence for those with impairments. More innovative control panels which enable a programmed phased evacuation are also perfectly suited to care environments, as they help to control the evacuation process and minimise confusion and chaos – a must when dealing with people who may not have any comprehension of the danger they’re facing.”

In agreement, Hollingshead said: “People believe the concept of fire evacuation is total evacuation but in the care industry, it’s progressive horizontal evacuation (PHE). Getting people away from the point of a fire and moving them into a point of safety (minimum two fires doors away) is the best approach.”

When questioned on the recommended two-and-a half-minute evacuation time, Hollingshead shared some interesting trivia. “The story goes that this originates over 100 years ago from theatres playing the national anthem in the event of a fire, as it typically signalled the end of a performance and encouraged audiences to leave”, he said. “Whether this is true or not, it makes very little sense to a care worker in an emergency who’s trying to assist a resident that requires a hoist to get out of bed, for example. That’s why we take the simple approach of ‘you do whatever it takes to save a life.’”

MINIMISING FALSE ALARMS Next, the panel discussed the importance of reducing

occurrences of false alarms – due to the reoccurring issue of the frailty of care home residents. Simon Titley reminded the group that this can be supported by regular, planned preventative maintenance programmes which extend the life expectancy of equipment, in particular sensors. In addition, visual checks of electrical equipment that come into a premises are vital to monitor for scorched plugs or broken cables.

Andy Hollingshead commented: “Toasters are a huge issue – they usually cause smoke rather than fires, which caused activation of alarms. Halogen floor lights have recently caused problems too, so we only use LED bulbs across our homes now. It’s so important to be smart in order to avoid bad relationships with the local fire brigade, as the work they do is incredible and it’s vital to keep them on side.”

Turning to how technology can help avoid false alarms, Hochiki’s Martin Green said: “Investigation delays can be set to give staff a few minutes to respond before the fire brigade is alerted and cause and effect programming in multi-sensors can also help, particularly with common causes such as toasters. For example, you can programme the multi-sensor to provide an initial alert at the fire control panel to inform a manager that there is smoke present and then, while also monitoring for the presence of heat, begin to determine whether it’s a real fire and whether a full alarm condition should be initiated.”

When asked what companies can do to improve system design and engineering, Simon Titley stressed that every design should be built around a fire risk assessment (FRA) provided by the owner of the care home. “Creating a robust fire safety strategy relies on a partnership between contractor and operator”, he said.

Picking up on a potential design flaw, Hollingshead explained that people living with dementia oſten set off call points. “We do everything we can to try and stop this with covers and howlers and it still happens. Within BS 5839-1, there’s a proviso that all manual call points are fitted with covers to reduce false alarms but when you’re dealing with people living with dementia, it’s almost impossible to avoid them completely,” he said.

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