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IFSJ Exclusive: Evacuation Plan B with Triple A Solutions

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Elspeth Grant, CEO and Expert PEEPs trainer at Triple A Solutions weighs in on the latest developments in the EEIS consultation

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has now finished with the panel now considering their findings before producing the final report. In the meantime, the Government is trying to do everything they can for someone reason not to implement Phase 1 recommendations for PEEPs (Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans). My view, along with all the lawyers I speak to, is that there is already legislation that states disabled people must be able to evacuate a building.

In fact, the danger is with the latest load of consultations is that the Government are muddying the water, which is what the Local Government Association (LGA) and London Fire Brigade (LFB) responses have stated.

The Fire Safety Order in 2005 ring-fenced the responsibility for evacuation away from firefighters on to Responsible Persons managing the building. I was the Director of a Resident Management Organisation in 2006, and we immediately took legal advice on our responsibilities.  This has not changed over the past 15 years.

The Order is criminal law and puts the entire responsibility onto the individual(s) managing or controlling the building who can get a criminal record and go to jail for two years for non-compliance. There are still many influential fire professionals who are still advising responsible people and their clients that this is not the case. I feel very strongly about this as all the legal advice I received says their approach is incorrect.

The Government is now on their third consultation about PEEPs and the latest one is probably the most ridiculous. In one of the proposal questions it states that disabled people could be asked to pay for the reasonable adjustments, which is clearly illegal under the existing Equality Act.

We are just in an eternal loop of consultations. The Government did not like the responses they got last time, they will like them even less this time because the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), LGA and LFB along with every other Fire Brigade have torn Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing (EEIS) apart.

Government action?

The Government does not actually have to do anything. Fire and Rescue Services just have to enforce the current legislation. Last year, I did Freedom of Information Requests of the English and Welsh FRS asking: ‘How many enforcement notices have you done for means of escape since the Grenfell Tower fire in multi-storey buildings; and then how many of these were for means of escape for disabled people’.

There had been around 1,294 enforcement means of escape notices – it will not be a surprise that there were none relating to disabled people, apart from one which could vaguely be associated. This left me with the impression that either every multi-storey building has PEEPs in place enabling every disabled person to leave at the same time as non-disabled people, or the Fire and Rescue Service are not enforcing the law equally in relation to disabled people and are therefore failing to perform their Public Sector Equality Duty.

Industry response

One criticism was that the EEIS proposals meet the requirement of neither the FSA, the FSO or the Equality Act. They all pointed out the Stay Put policy, but people are just not staying put in buildings that are on fire anymore; they get out if they are able to do so.

LFB said that Stay Put is the right Plan A and Plan C is rescue, which is the worst-case scenario. LFB rightly points out that they are a Fire and Rescue Service, not a Fire and Evacuation Service. There has to be a Plan B where everyone can move away from immediate danger. For me, that is the most important thing: to ensure that if the fire is in your flat, next door, or on your floor, you can move away; you can move down one or two flights.

Realistically if you can do that you can probably leave the building altogether. The Research by the University of Leeds and Phil Murphy on historical Incident Reporting Data going back to 2010 highlights why this is so important as it identifies that if a person is in the vicinity of a fire for over 20 minutes they are more likely to die than to be rescued.

The NFCC response stared that the EEIS proposals are contrary to all published guidance – the Means of Escape for Disabled People supplementary guidance published by the Home Office.  Section 1.1 Legal Overview very specifically states that there must be an evacuation plan to get everyone, including disabled people, out of the building without the assistance of the Fire and Rescue Service, an approach mirrored by British Standards. Is the Government now stating that the Home Office has published incorrect legal advice for the past fifteen years?

All guidance would have to be changed if the EEIS proposals were implemented and the FSO re-written – can you imagine writing a law in 2023 that states ‘all relevant persons must be able to move away from immediate danger and leave the building apart from disabled people’? It would just be open to immediate legal action.

The FPA reported in August this year that over 1000 legal actions have been launched related to the Grenfell Tower fire. These will not all be about PEEPs, but a fair few undoubtedly will be as fifteen disabled people died because they had no PEEPs and were unable to evacuate.

The LGA response to the EEIS Consultation is interesting as they have obtained legal advice stating that the EEIS proposal breaches the Equality Act. This is a huge turnaround because in 2011 the LGA  published the Fire Safety in Purpose Built Flats Guidance, authored by C S Todd & Associates, stating that  PEEPs were unreasonable, a statement that the LGA formally redacted last year.

What is your current view on the situation

We have the Fire Safety Order that states that everyone must be able to move away from immediate danger and leave the building as quickly and as safely as possible. My view is that existing legislation just has to be implemented and enforced equally for both non-disabled and disabled people. The responses from the professionals very specifically state that the law is already there, however the Government are not listening.  This is situation is dangerous for disabled people as well as Responsible Persons as it is going to muddy the water leaving Responsible Persons unclear about their legal responsibilities.

This article was originally published in the January edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

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