A fire gets out of control and there simply isn’t enough time to get service users and staff out safely. As a care home manager, it’s the worst case scenario that keeps you awake at night.

I recently experienced a moment in time where those fears crossed my mind. I was at one of our supported living schemes to help administer medication for service users. My shift was due to finish soon and I would be on my way. Or so I thought…

We needed to get out. And quickly.

The clock had just struck 9pm and many of the service users were starting to get ready for bed.

Suddenly I heard a loud bang. It sounded like an explosion. I rushed over to the window and saw the neighbours’ shed up in flames. The fire had spread to our garden and the fence. How long until it reaches the home? We needed to get out. And quickly. Time to raise the alarm.

I knew that agency staff were on shift and I wondered whether they would know what to do. It soon became obvious they had had a good induction and knew exactly what they were doing. We helped the service users leave, got the ‘grab bag’ and made our way to the fire assembly point outside.

It was clear that the service users had practised the fire drill many times before. They didn’t panic and knew the procedure and where the fire assembly point was. The neighbours joined us outside and explained the fire service was already on the way.

All the contact numbers and plans I needed were in the grab bag so I was able to tell the on-call manager straight away. The bag also contained a torch, hi-vis vests and foil blankets. Luckily, the fire was put out before it reached any buildings and we were allowed back inside after just over an hour; a bit cold but grateful to be safe!

What did I learn?

When it comes to evacuations, practice really does make perfect! We carry out a fire drill with staff and service users every three months and vary the time of day it takes place so staff on different shifts are included too.

The experience hit home with me just how vital inductions for new, agency or ‘bank’ workers are. This was a good example of it being done well but it’s easy to imagine something being overlooked on a particularly busy day. These staff can work in a different service from one day to the next so it’s crucial they know what to do in the event of a fire and have a good understanding of the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) for service users.

Commitment to fire safety

As an organisation, Hightown is taking fire safety seriously. Recently, our communications team raised awareness to staff through a fire safety quiz, fire hazard perception video and breaking down the procedure into more memorable bite-size messages. Our Care & Supported Housing managers will also be holding fire safety roadshows at schemes to provide updates on any changes to legislation and improvements to Personal Emergency Evacuation Procedures (PEEPs).

There are always lessons to learn but if we continually look to improve, I will sleep better at night, safe in the knowledge that we’re doing our best to keep our staff and service users safe.

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Chris Barrett