Crewe MP ‘demands answers’ over care home fire

21 August 2019

Laura Smith said that ‘serious questions need answering’ after the home, which burnt down last weekend, was revealed to have no sprinklers amid other fire safety concerns.

The Beechmere retirement complex was destroyed in the fire, and Cheshire Fire and Rescue (CFRS) revealed the building was not fitted with sprinklers. All 150 residents were evacuated and the blaze required a maximum of 16 appliances at its height, and after the fire destroyed most of the building a demolition crew was requested to assist in demolishing areas that were ‘no longer structurally stable’.

The home had only recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, with CFRS now investigating what caused the fire. On the investigation, ITV News asked ‘whether the building adhered to regulation will form part’, while chief fire officer Gus O’Rourke was asked whether the building had been fitted with sprinklers. He stated that ‘it had no sprinkler system’, and that ‘the building should have adhered to the current legislation on fire protection and compartmentation’.

Mr O’Rourke also pointed out that he ‘would not have expected the fire to go through this building as quickly as it did’, with ITV News noting in turn that firefighters had stayed on site throughout the weekend, with a number of road closures expected. Cheshire Live has now reported on Ms Smith’s response to the fire, in which she said that ‘serious questions need answering’ in relation to the fact that ‘elderly people, many of whom had disabilities and care needs, had been housed in a timber-framed building without any sprinklers and a “stay put” policy in the event of a fire’.

The news outlet had contacted building owner Avantage to ask why sprinklers had not been installed in a timber building, and whether stay put was appropriate, but the company responded that ‘it would not be appropriate for them to comment at this time’. Ms Smith has written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for building and fire safety regulations to be reviewed, and also called on Cheshire East Council (CEC) to ‘urgently audit’ buildings in the area to identify sites of similar risk.

She added: ‘The most important thing for me now is to be challenging and looking at how this happened, why it happened and how we can make sure that it never happens again. I await the outcome of the formal investigation into the fire before reaching any conclusion but I believe that the government needs to urgently review our building regulations.

‘I was shocked to discover that elderly people, many of whom had disabilities and care needs, had been housed in a timber-framed building without any sprinklers and a “stay put” policy in the event of a fire. At the time of construction, the company boasted that it had the largest timber content of any development in Europe.

‘This will have undoubtedly helped to deliver their PFI contract with the council on budget and on time. At the end of the day, companies will work to the rules set by government and we need those rules to put safety first. We need more assisted living homes but we also need to know that people are safe in their beds.’

She continued: ‘I have also challenged whether the “stay put” policy is appropriate in these circumstances. Thankfully, the incident commander made the right call to override the policy and lives were saved. I have asked [CEC] to urgently audit buildings in the area to identify any sites where there is a similar risk and to work with [CFRS] to make sure that appropriate fire safety plans are put in place.

‘This is especially important where there are children or vulnerable adults with mobility issues involved. As always, the rapid and professional response from our emergency services has saved lives and they deserve all our thanks. We should never take our police, fire and ambulance services for granted.

‘Thankfully, we had sufficient resources nearby to keep the situation under control and keep people safe. I will always fight to protect our local emergency services. You can’t do public safety on the cheap.’

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Crewe MP ‘demands answers’ over care home fire