London Fire Brigade clarifies implementation of waking watches and interim fire safety measures


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London Fire Brigade has issued a clarification on the implementation of waking watches and other interim safety measures for unsafe buildings.

There are currently more than 1,000 buildings in London which have had their strategy for evacuating residents in the event of a fire changed due to serious fire safety failings. In these buildings, which have been moved from a stay put to simultaneous evacuation* strategy, the interim measures which have been put in place to ensure the safety of residents may include a waking watch*, but not necessarily.

Waking watches in unsafe buildings are not imposed by the fire service – they are put in place by the person responsible for fire safety in each building, such as the building owner or manager, based on the findings and recommendations of a competent fire safety person and should be captured as part of their Fire Risk Assessment.

While the Brigade has a role in enforcing fire safety legislation, it does not make a decision on which interim measures are put in place in a building. However, the Brigade’s fire safety inspectors will not leave an unsafe building without any safety measures in place due to the significant risk to residents.

The Brigade accepts that in some cases a waking watch is the only viable option until a common alarm is fitted, other than evacuating the whole building.

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “We understand the anger of those residents who are still living in unsafe buildings and we share their frustrations that they are in this appalling situation almost five years on from the Grenfell Tower fire.

“We have consistently said it is unacceptable there are still more than 1,000 buildings in London which have fire safety failings and we have continued to call for action to remedy this. 

“Fire services do have enforcement powers to prohibit the use of part or all of a building with serious fire safety failings, but we would always seek to work with the responsible person to find alternative options to ensure residents can stay in their homes. However, we cannot leave a building which we know is unsafe and puts its residents at risk without interim safety measures in place. 

“Leaseholders are currently facing unacceptable burdens and we accept their frustrations when the cost of waking watches or other interim measures contribute to them. We support the Government action being taken to allocate clear responsibility for remediation costs, which we hope will speed up the process of making buildings safer. 

“The only acceptable long-term solution is for any fire safety failings to be remediated by those responsible as soon as possible. We would again urge all building owners and managers to take immediate action to ensure their tenants are safe and can live in their homes without fear.”

National guidance states that any waking watches introduced should be a temporary measure only and the Brigade fully supports this.

Unfortunately, the Brigade’s fire safety inspectors are still finding buildings in London which have fire safety issues and in these cases, waking watches may still be implemented. 

In some cases, even if there is a common alarm system in place, there may still be personnel on-site to monitor and respond, should the alarm sound. This is in line with the national guidance and is deemed to be the most effective way to ensure residents’ safety in each case.

National guidance notes that alternative options to having someone on site to monitor alarm systems can include remote monitoring centres, premises information boxes and the use of CCTV cameras, providing these can be supported by the responsible person’s competent fire safety professional’s fire risk assessment.  

*Simultaneous evacuation is when residents of blocks of flats are advised to leave a building in the event of a fire, instead of remaining in their flats (unless directly affected by fire or smoke) as per the Stay Put strategy. This is not a fire and rescue strategy, it is a principle of building design and construction strategy and applies nationally.

*A waking watch is when on-site personnel are required in a building which has moved from the Stay Put strategy to simultaneous evacuation due to fire safety failings. The aim of the waking watch is to ensure residents have sufficient warning in the event of a fire to support the evacuation strategy.

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