New fire safety management policy for Exeter City Council housing stock

Exeter City Council is looking at bringing in a new fire safety management policy for its housing stock.

The local authority is looking closely at escape routes in flats and ensuring that they are kept free of clutter. Personal belongings placed in escape routes can hinder evacuation in the event of a fire as well as prevent fire and rescue officers from accessing areas of the building.

Council Officers and Councillors have worked closely with Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service in reviewing its fire safety management policy, referencing Local Government Association advice, relevant legislation and recommendations following previous serious fires.

Members of the City Council’s Executive will be asked to agree a policy which will ensure all escape routes remain clear, known as a ‘sterile’ approach, where no items are allowed. This will be done in a phased way, working at first with residents to understand what storage needs they may have and the importance of fire safety, with the assistance of Devon Fire and Rescue Service.

Cllr Hannah Packham, Exeter City Council’s Lead Councillor for Housing Revenue Account, said: “The safety of our tenants is our key concern and that’s why it is important in light of recent events that we are having another look at our fire safety management policy.

“We understand that people take pride in their homes, want to make their flat look homely or simply cannot fit everything into their home.

“It’s not unusual for tenants to place doormats, plants, sideboards and even sofas in escape routes - commonly referred to as ‘communal areas’ - however, evidence shows this can come at a price if there is a fire and people can’t get out safely. The phrase ‘communal area’ is not accurate, these are in fact escape routes.

“We hope tenants appreciate the reasons we are doing this, it is purely about their safety.” she added.

Watch Manager, Martin Sleigh from Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service said: “We have been working closely with Exeter City Council to ensure the safety of their tenants. It is vitally important that escape routes are clear in all types of buildings but particularly where people sleep and we support the city council’s approach to this issue.”

The Council has committed to explore storage solutions for those with essential items like buggies and mobility scooters which cannot be stored inside the home.
A “sterile” approach has been in operation in East Devon for 18 months, and in many housing association properties in the city and is now widely accepted by tenants.