Partly prompted by the recent spate of forest fires (we live only 300m from a forest in Seine Maritime), we’ve been thinking about fire risk at home. In the UK, (and also possibly in other countries) you could go to your local fire station and ask if somebody could come round and give you guidance on making your property safer, as a public prevention service.
We approached the Mairie, who were intrigued at the idea, and immediately e-mailed the sapeurs pompiers.The latter replied that they didn’t provide fire safety guidance to households, as it was individuals own responsibility to protect their homes, and the sapeurs pompiers “didn’t want to be held responsible if your house subsequently burned down, after giving the advice”! They suggested calling our insurers…
I have to admit this wasn’t exactly the answer I was expecting. It appears that issuing fire prevention advice to households (as opposed to producing general leaflets and presentations on the issue) is not the sapeurs pompiers’ common practice (in Seine Maritime, and quite possibly in France more widely). I do understand - their resources are no doubt thinly spread, fire fighting is absolutely a priority, having people visiting homes to advise is merely a nice to have etc etc. That said, prevention is generally cheaper than cure…
I wonder if anybody else has sought fire prevention advice from the sapeurs pompiers here, and if so, what sort of response did you get?
I feel the SPs are more a military than a fire brigade type organisation. Asking their advice about home fire prevention might be a bit like asking the SAS about home security
the Prefecture issues all sorts of good advice… here’s an example
And, of course, any appliance will come with instructions on its use… and chimneys need sweeping… and waterproof plugs in wet rooms… (all sorts of things are readily warned about…) and this list is not exhaustive…
They come to my lycée every year to do a course.
We employed a local electrician when we first bought our old house. He was also a volunteer fireman, and the chief at the time of our communes collective brigade.
Another firm supplied and installed our large freestanding Godin woodburner. On the electricians next visit, in our absence, he decided the other firm had not cut a large enough hole in the first floor for the flue to avoid combustion. Without consulting us, and we suspect with his fireman’s hat on, he took an axe to the beams and boards and hacked away till he felt it safe. We found his explanatory note about fire safety on pinned to the woodburner on our next visit. I think he felt we were too stupid (anglais) to be trusted to act promptly if he warned us.
More seriously there are many volunteers in the sapeurs pompiers … several of our friends children have done it for some years. I suggest you ask around who has experience local to you that might give informal advice.
Otherwise it’s an issue that concerns all architects dealing with older buildings in the UK. As a generalisation the building Regs are focused on avoiding damage to property from fire (driven by insurance companies), while the fire brigades priorities and advise on avoiding injury or loss of Iife, so more on escape and less on resistance to combustion. The two are not the same and often in conflict! Architects should try to reconcile both in a suitable solution.
I would be happy to make general suggestions if you can give a clearer sense of the construction materials and arrangement of spaces, but just like the professional sapeurs pompiers I have no desire to be sued if something terrible happened later.
That’s both very helpful, and interesting, thank you. I will follow up your excellent suggestion of trying to find a kind volunteer for informal (no liability!) advice.
Purely FYI my principal concern (which I’d raise with said volunteer) is the escape aspect, ie how best to evacuate from our first floor, where all our bedrooms are, if a fire broke out that trapped us upstairs. All of the windows are Velux, ie slightly awkward to get through, with a 6m drop to the ground. We’re considering the suitability of an (evacuation designed) rope ladder, if that was recommended by a volunteer…
Smoke detectors and use the stairs. If your paranoid stick some heat detectors in as well.
Really paranoid invest in fire doors
I thought those ladders were all but banned. In new builds/conversions it’s detection and slowing fire spread so stairs are safe escapes - you only need a few minutes so single family smoke detection should be adequate.
Using plastic plumbing you get a free sprinkler system as well
Fire exstinguisher upstairs to quell the fire to make an escape possible. Using top hung velux or velux fire escape windows rather than centre pivot varieties.
@chrisell Thank you for the sensible suggestions above. We’re hopefully not (too) paranoid (!), so will ensure, and rely on a suitably located smoke detector, Escape rope ladders, whether they should be banned or not, are clearly still being sold…though personally, I think they would be an absolute last resort…
Thank you. We will definitely install a fire extinguisher upstairs, for exactly the reasons you suggest. Unfortunately all our velux windows would appear to be the centre pivot type, so will have to rely on being able to get downstairs quickly and safely.
Don’t they make chain ones? There was one in my school dormitory one year, we used it to climb down in summer so we could play tennis at 4am.
When I was a student we had Davy escapes in our rooms, I don’t know if those still exist. A friend of mine drunkenly used one from the 3rd floor and got horrific rope burns but survived.
@vero Remarkable coincidence. My Mum also waxed lyrical about the potential of Davy escapes at her all girls school (in the fifties). I’d never heard the phrase until last weekend, and now youve also flagged it up!
They appear to be discontinued probably on safety grounds!
My Davy escape was in college at Cambridge in the 80s
The metal chain ladders at school had rigid rungs so they were super easy to use.
I’m musing aloud…
If my upstairs rooms were not able to be evacuated easily via the windows… I would ensure a safe-descent-route via the corridor/stairs. Much as one has in hotels and will often see the map in the bedrooms etc.
Personally, although we have large french-windows… I’m not able to clamber out of 'em … but I’m not able to clamber out of the bath either …
I’d do a Rapunzel act and wait for the fabulous pompier to climb up and rescue me…
What you ladies will do for a man in a uniform
Ahem… I think cold showers might be necessary before some of us burst into flames…
As you know, the first advice from your local fire service in the UK is don’t smoke in bed.
I gave up smoking at the age of 9 when I smoked 21 cigarettes (Woodbine untipped) in a day, turned green and promptly never smoked again. Furthermore, since neither of you smoke, the fire service first action advice appears to be a bit of a wet blanket (something else you might like to consider in case of emergency).