Camden fire chief reveals plans for resident advisory panel as he warns of climate change risks

Climate change is increasing the risk of a ‘significant fire’ on Hampstead Heath. Peter O’Connor / Wikicommons

A fire boss is setting up a residents’ group to ensure people’s needs in Camden are listened to.

Borough commander David George revealed plans to set up an advisory panel to hear from residents and businesses “to ensure what we’re doing in Camden is what Camden residents would like”.

George highlighted some of the fire risks in the borough and warned Camden Council’s fire safety and compliance advisory panel that climate change could put open spaces at more risk.

The risk of a “significant fire” at Hampstead Heath during a dry summer is likely to increase, he warned.

George said fire crews tackled 17 fires in and around the 320-hectare heathland last year.

Three people died in fires in Camden and 15 more were injured over the past twelve months.

George also told the fire scrutiny committee that there were 133 fires in flats and 19 house fires.

There are 34 high rise blocks in the borough with temporary simultaneous evacuation orders because fire risk assessments have found that the “building safety features are not adequate”, he said.

Whilst making up less than 10 per cent of the borough’s population, elderly residents are more likely to “suffer the consequences of a fire in the home”.

There were seven fires in care homes, including four in self-contained sheltered accommodation.

George said it is harder to evacuate people with mobility issues and elderly people are more likely to be affected by a fire in their own home than elsewhere.

The Camden risk register includes the major transport hubs at Euston and King’s Cross, where there was a fatal fire in 1987, as well as the Francis Crick Institute and University College London.

There are also the cultural treasure troves at Kenwood House, the British Museum and the British Library.

The panel got an update about the council’s work to tackle 4,700 issues raised by fire risk assessments in homes and buildings.

These include fitting fire alarms and new front entrance doors to flats.

Susanne Afra, Camden’s head of capital works, said over 3,000 fire alarms have been fitted, with more to come.

She told the fire scrutiny committee: “Our biggest challenge is around non-access.”

She said some residents are “pushing back” because they do not think work is needed.

Resident David O’Keefe said he thought some of the pushback was around concerns about the quality of some of the work.

Afra said the work is checked by a clerk of works and specialist electricians to ensure it is of a high standard.

“We are happy to revisit their homes and take on board any feedback,” she added.

As part of fire safety legisation after the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the council also has to give residents information about fire safety in its 33,000 homes.

This includes the importance of fire doors and learning how to spot damage or gaps around door frames, seals and hinges and to check doors are closing properly.

Councils also have to tell people about the importance of keeping doors closed, not tampering with self-closing devices and about fire alarms.

Camden is also training up 2,000 tenant representatives about fire safety.

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