As many residential developments continue to be affected by the country’s escalating crisis over fire safety, due to the change in official guidance on cladding and fire alarm systems, we decided to ask our resident fire safety expert and Managing Director of Prime Management Group, Lee Carruthers, the important questions many residents and leaseholders want to be answered regarding Waking Watches.
With 10 years’ experience as a crew manager within Lancashire Fire and Rescue, Lee Carruthers voices his opinion on the NFCC’s guidance that advises the temporary simultaneous evacuation strategy in a purpose-built block of flats, commonly known as a Waking Watch or Fire Watch.
What is a Waking Watch?
“A Waking Watch is essentially a 24-hour surveillance of a residential property that has been assessed to have fire safety issues. Fire Marshals continually patrol the interior and exterior of a building in order to detect fire and fire hazards. If a fire is detected, the fire marshals will raise the alarm, evacuate the building and liaise with the fire and rescue service.”
Does my residential building need a Waking Watch?
“If your residential building is undergoing fire safety works, such as replacing flammable cladding or upgrading the fire alarm system, then it will need some form of fire detection system. This can be either a common fire alarm system or a Waking Watch. The National Fire Chief Councils guidance suggests that whilst common fire alarms are deemed ‘adequate’ by most local councils, a Waking Watch should be used alongside this measure for added safety. Common fire alarms would also need to be placed inside each residents’ flat, making a Waking Watch a simpler and more effective solution for building owners whilst work is undertaken to fix the fire safety issues. Additionally, the change in evacuation strategy for multi-occupancy developments, from Stay-Put to Simultaneous Evacuation, has led to the requirement for a Waking Watch in residential properties that are undergoing work to amend the fire safety issues”.
What are the benefits of a Waking Watch?
“In my opinion, one of the main benefits of a Waking Watch is how people respond better to instructions and authority in emergency situations. For example, one of the training videos we show to our staff highlights how easy it is for people to ignore fire alarms, especially when they become ‘frequent and annoying’. A 24-hour Waking Watch patrol removes this issue as fire marshals are there purposely to support an evacuation if a fire is detected.
“Another benefit of Waking Watch patrols is the complete peace of mind it gives to both building owners and the residents. As Vigilant fire marshals patrol the interior and exterior 24 hours a day searching for fire risks and fire hazards, a Waking Watch ensures high levels of fire risk mitigation and fire safety.
“Additionally, with a specific branch of Prime Management Group specialising in safeguarding commercial and residential properties against fire risks, Prime Fire Management, we provide a range of fire safety solutions that are tailored to each client. In terms of a Waking Watch Service, we ensure ongoing fire prevention activity for every client, such as:
– Reporting all hazards via real-time reporting
– Removing combustible items and potential sources of ignition
– Ensuring fire escape routes are free from obstructions and are well maintained
– Conducting regular and random ‘silent alarm’ drills to ensure our marshals are always prepared and to identify any potential process issues
– Onsite inductions to familiarise staff with the site-specific assignment instructions
– Liaising with the Fire and Rescue Service on-site reviews and implementing their fire safety recommendations
– Establish a constant line of communication with the property owners or property managers and providing real-time reports
– Continual risk assessments”
What protocols/ contingencies are in place to ensure the safety of residents?
“With such a serious role at hand, we ensure that our fire marshals are trained to industry-leading standards. With an in-house training centre and 5 ex-firefighters leading Prime Fire Management’s team, we are able to train our staff in all areas of fire safety and prevention.
“As human error could have grave consequences, we place technology at the heart of everything we do. Once we have been in contact with the client and reviewed their assessment and recommendations, we place strategic NFC scan points at the main hazard points around the property, which are then scanned by the fire marshals on each patrol. This protocol ensures hazard points are continually checked and no corners are cut, as each individual tap generates a unique encrypted code appended to a URL to provide proof of presence. These are then compiled into a report and sent to the client’s point of contact.
“Additionally, staff are supported by a UK wide operational network and a 24/7 control room. Should issues arise, support staff can be on site at a moment’s notice. Welfare checks also play a key role in Prime’s protocols. Staff are contacted by our control every hour to provide proof of presence and to report any issues.
“Fire marshals are also provided with site-specific assignment instructions which detail the issues with the property and the evacuation process which they carry at all times. Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans are also included if the property contains any residents that require additional help.”
What happens in the event of a fire?
“In the event of the alarm sounding, a fire marshal will check the fire alarm panel to locate the source of the alarm. Communicating via radio, the marshals will convene at the location of the sounding alarm and search for signs of fire. If a fire is detected, the fire marshals will alert the Fire and Rescue Service and will proceed to evacuate the building, following the NFCC’s Simultaneous Evacuation guidelines. Marshal’s are equipped with torches, whistles and air horns to cover all eventualities and ensure the building(s) is evacuated safely and effectively.
How do you approach such a sensitive yet essential issue?
“Here at Prime Management Group, we understand the stress the UK cladding crisis has had on leaseholders and residents within affected properties. To ensure we provide the residents with the best possible service and complete peace of mind, we strictly adhere to our contingencies and protocols to ensure we provide the highest levels of fire risk mitigation and a reassuring presence.
“With an emphasis placed on training and development, our Fire Safety Officers are committed to making sure residents feel safe in the knowledge that their home is being protected by a professional and accredited organisation, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”
What makes your Waking Watch stand out?
“Our Waking Watch Service is led by a team of ex-fire fighters who have a combined total of 50 years’ experience within fire safety roles. Because of this, we have gained vast experience and developed significant expertise in providing fire risk mitigation strategies in residential developments and contributing to the enhancement of the building’s general fire precautions.
“Prime Management Group places emphasis on technology, not only to help reduce paper, but to provide seamless real-time reports for our clients. We also incorporate NFC tagging technology to ensure our clients can see that all the hazard points are routinely patrolled.
“Another area I believe that makes our Waking Watch Service stand out from the crowd is our accreditations and memberships. As a member of the Fire Protection Association, we benefit from continuous updates and insights into fire legislation changes. The accreditation demonstrates Prime Management Group’s commitment to working towards the protection of people, property, business, and the environment.”
Do you think the government has done enough to support residents in the developments that have been affected by the UK cladding scandal?
“The government certainly has not done enough to support leaseholders and residents living in affected properties. I think that it is completely unfair that the cost of fire safety upgrades and repairs has been placed on the shoulders of the residents.”
How do you ensure your staff are trained to the highest standards?
“To ensure our staff are trained to the highest industry standards, we use a combination of in-house training sessions, which take place at Prime’s training centre, and a wide variety of e-learning courses, which covers everything from fire safety, to security, and customer service, to ensure our staff have the capabilities to work in all the environments and industries we provide services for. Our staff are also paid a living wage which encourages productivity and ensures they remain proactive and vigilant throughout their shifts.”
Prime Management Group strives to ensure the safety of the residents who have been affected by the UK cladding scandal in residential developments. If you require more information on Waking Watches, check our blog or Waking Watch page, today. Or get in touch with the team to discuss your requirements and how we can work to safeguard your residential property.