Could your business survive a fire?

WHILE this may seem like a dramatic question, over 30% of businesses hit by fire do not survive and many take years to recover from lost assets.

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Despite this statistic, many Jersey companies do not undertake regular training or have robust fire policies in place.

While recognising that employees have busy jobs and are not trained firefighters, all staff should have basic fire safety awareness, according to former fire officers Martyn Maguire and Martin Allix who set up Ignis Safety Consultants Ltd.

‘During our time in the fire service, we had both witnessed first-hand the devastation that fire can cause to people’s lives, said Mr Maguire, the former head of fire safety for JFRS. ‘Losing a business affects the livelihoods of so many people involved both directly and indirectly with the company. We wanted to use our safety and operational knowledge to minimise the risk of a fire and to equip people with the skills they need to respond quickly and efficiently in the event of a fire.’

Mr Allix, who spent over a decade as head of operations for JFRS, explained: ‘It has become clear to us recently that while many businesses have safety policies and procedures in place, in many cases these have never been tested, and may not be fit for purpose.

‘Accordingly, we have expanded our training remit to provide bespoke courses for businesses, residential homes and industrial workers.’

As well as fire awareness courses, Ignis Safety Consultants run fire marshal training, extinguisher training, evacuation chair training and fire drills which focus on bespoke evacuation procedure sessions.

‘Very often, businesses have designated fire marshals and a manager who is responsible for health and safety but fire safety applies to every member of staff. We have two approaches to training in organisations,’ explained Mr Allix. ‘The first of these is a table-top exercise involving a company’s management team. Ahead of the session, we familiarise ourselves with the building and the firm’s written policies, and then we create a hypothetical scenario and stress-test the policies to see if they would stand up in real life.’

‘This is also a very effective way of putting managers on the spot, and getting them to think about who would respond and make decisions quickly in an emergency,’ added Mr Maguire. ‘If the designated fire marshal is not in the building when the emergency arises, who then takes responsibility? It is important to remember that not only do you have to respond to the fire but also implement the business’s continuity programme.’

In addition to testing management teams on the firm’s procedures, Ignis Safety Consultants place great importance on ensuring that all staff are aware of the evacuation procedures.

‘The Fire and Rescue Service recommend that businesses carry out two comprehensive fire drills every year,’ said Mr Maguire. ‘It is so important that regular evacuations and training sessions take place. All staff should understand the building and have the basic fire awareness training, and then specific team members should receive more advanced marshal and extinguisher tuition.’

‘Using a fire extinguisher is not difficult,’ said Mr Allix, ‘but you should not wait until faced with a fire to use one for the first time. It is vital that people are familiar with the equipment, as they are often shocked both by the force and noise of an extinguisher and by the heat and power of a fire. You do not want a real fire to be a rehearsal scene.’

As well as working with corporate clients, Ignis Safety Consultants specialises in training for care-home staff.

‘Residential homes present a unique set of challenges, as the people living there tend to be very vulnerable and often have limited mobility,’ said Mr Maguire. ‘This means that the buildings are incredibly difficult to evacuate, and it is vital that the staff in these homes are well prepared and know what to do and how to do it in event of a fire.’

Recognising the complexities of responding to a fire in a care home, Ignis offers comprehensive bespoke training programmes, including in-house test scenarios which have been well received by clients.

‘As well as training staff on the policies and procedures to follow, we set up test scenarios in the homes so that staff can apply the practices and learn from the experiences. We have taken actors in to the homes to play the parts of the residents, and filled the rooms with artificial smoke to create a realistic replica of a fire situation.’

One home which has worked with Ignis to provide fire-safety training to its staff is St Ewold’s Care Home in St Helier.

Manager Kelly Kennedy said: ‘Fire training is one of the most important training sessions we undertake within the care home and is totally essential as the safety of our residents is paramount. Training provided by the team at Ignis included fire awareness, fire marshal and fire extinguisher training, together with fully implemented scenarios for care-home evacuation including the use of evacuation chairs.

‘The professional service Ignis and their team offer has been invaluable and, as they have a wealth of experience, they have been able to advise us first-hand about any issues around the care home.’

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