Locksmiths are, understandably, usually concerned with security as the primary consideration when advising customers however fire should also be a major consideration, more specifically the consequences an inappropriate security device can cause.

Fire, as we all know, can be devastating in both human terms and in loss of property. Tragedies such as the one at Lakanal House in 2009 where 6 people died as a result of a blaze in a 98 flat tower block in Camberwell are very graphic reminders of just how important fire safety is in building design – or renovation and the on-going issues of maintenance and cleanliness of the public areas of such a building.

We are aware that fire fatalities are usually as a result of smoke inhalation. What we maybe don’t appreciate though are the temperatures involved in a house fire. Actual figures are somewhat difficult to accurately state but as a guide, a 30 minute fire door, when tested to BS 476 pt 22, is expected to withstand temperatures in excess of 800⁰ C for around 25 minutes. Consider that water boils at 100⁰ C, is unbearably hot at 50⁰ C, and you have an idea of the extremes involved.

So, fire (and indeed smoke) are dangerous.

There is nothing unusual in that statement. What we very rarely consider though when looking at fire safety, particularly with regard to the renovation of older multi – occupancy dwellings, is the effect that a lack of security, or even a perceived lack of security can have on the safety of residents.

Thankfully deaths from fires are generally on the decrease. In the year 2010 / 2011 there were around 44,700 dwelling fires in the UK from which a total of 306 deaths were reported. This figure is obviously too high but consider 1979 when 865 deaths occurred and thankfully we seem to be moving in the right direction, helped perhaps by better fire awareness and the common use of smoke alarms etc. Around 45% of the deaths in 2010 / 2011 were in the 60 and over age group.

Nothing unusual or startling in these figures, however things start to get a little more interesting though when we consider crime statistics, in particular, burglary.

In the year 2010 / 2011 there were an estimated 733,000 burglary related incidents from domestic properties (household crime). The figure seems alarming but when compared to a figure of 1.7m in 1995 it seems that things are getting better and figures suggest that even modest crime fighting measures such as upgraded window and door locks reduce the risk of burglary by around 90%.

The perception however is somewhat different. During a recent crime survey 60% of the people questioned thought that crime nationally was on the increase and virtually an identical amount of people stated they were most worried about burglary as a direct criminal act against them.

We’ve already identified that simple window and door locks reduce the risk dramatically so the solution is simple, let’s fit better window and door locks and we’re sorted.

It’s not that simple though, as increased security can increase the risk of death from fire!

To truly understand this we need to consider that in around 80% of the deaths in dwellings smoke inhalation was recorded as a contributory factor, and consider two case studies:

A young couple, returning from their engagement party, returned home, rather the worse for wear! The female went upstairs and her partner got the chip pan out. The pan ignited and the ground floor quickly filled with smoke and as a result the male collapsed behind the closed door between the lounge and hallway. His partner having smelt the smoke rushed downstairs but was unable to get to her partner because he was behind the door. Her keys were in the smoke filled kitchen but as the lock on the front door had recently been upgraded as a result of a spate of burglaries in the area, and had no slam shut facility, the front door was effectively deadlocked. Fortunately a call to the emergency services had been made and the lady was able to breathe through the letterbox until the Fire Brigade arrived and smashed down the door. Her partner also survived.

A similar story emerged from an elderly couple living in a detached bungalow. All the windows and doors had been fitted with upgraded, and in the case of the doors, multiple security devices. On this occasion it seems that the husband had retired and his wife had taken a late shower. The husband appeared to have realised there was a problem and had opened the front door and called the emergency services. It seems that he had gone to help his wife escaper and there route to the open front door had become blocked. Tragically their bodies were found inside the still locked (very securely) back door.

So, when advising potential customer, particularly with regard to supplementary security devices, security professionals should perhaps consider how easy those products would be to disengage in the dead of night, in a house full of smoke and flames and advise accordingly. Perhaps then we can reduce deaths from fire even further.

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