As hospitals battle through the second major wave of the virus, concerns have been raised around the NHS’on-going maintenance backlog and the impact on safety and infrastructure. In January 2021, figures suggested that the total backlog was the equivalent of the annual running cost of the entire NHS estate, which was around £9.7bn in 2019/20 . Despite the added pressure of COVID-19, hospitals and healthcare buildings must ensure that fire safety standards are not only compliant, but adapted to facilitate the added challenge of the ongoing pandemic.
Emergency hospital evacuations are inherently more complicated when compared to other public buildings. Alike most aspects of modern life, the pandemic has made this process more difficult, with the requirements of social distancing and the prevention of infection a vital consideration. Mobility issues and the vulnerable nature of patients, combined with expensive and often life dependent equipment requires substantial assistance from staff in the event of a fire, slowing the procedure down and risking lives in the process.
A fire evacuation in the accident and emergency unit at the Royal Stoke University Hospital in 2017 saw patients on higher levels waiting for lifts for up to an hour while the fire alarm sounded. As many of the patients were unable to walk, staff attempted to transport them on beds and mattresses, causing a grid lock in the hospital corridors and the subsequent delays  . Furthermore as smoke from the fire spread throughout the building, patients had to be redirected to neighbouring hospitals as the A&E unit and surrounding wards were closed and ventilated. The limited capacity in hospitals across the UK today would make an incident like this catastrophic, with patients left with nowhere to go.
COVID-19 has seen a change to day-to-day behaviours which may directly intensify the risk of a fire in a hospital. The increased use of ventilators was raised as a heightened fire risk by the NHS England estates team in March last year, with higher oxygen levels within wards allowing a potential fire to spread at a faster rate . The need to reduce touch points and prevent contact with door handles has resulted in many high traffic fire doors being held open. Fire doors are essential to provide protection to a building and its occupants, preventing smoke and flames spreading from room to room in the event of a fire.
Geofire, manufacturer of the Salamander fire door system said, “As an official supplier to one the largest hospital trusts in the UK, we want to stress to Fire Safety Officers across the country the importance of not letting fire safety standards slip. Our approved radio controlled, Salamander devices are battery operated and connect wirelessly to a mains powered controller unit, which is easily wired into existing fire alarm systems, ensuring that fire doors will safely close in the event of a fault or fire. The Salamander system has all the benefits of hard-wired electromagnetic door holders and closers, but as 1/2 the devices are wire-free, they are quick and easy to install, saving time, installation costs and require no disruption to a building’s fabric or its occupants”.
Holding open a fire door with a non-compliant device not only threatens prosecution, fines and closures following failed inspections, but puts patients, staff, equipment and the building at risk. Salamander offers the only wire-free system of radio controlled fire door holders and closers which complies with Category A of BS 7273-4.
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Rebecca Morpeth Spayne,
Editor, International Fire Buyer
Tel: +44 (0) 1622 823 922