The Complexities of Hospital Fire Safety
Fires in hospitals or other healthcare centres are relatively rare.  Which is fortunate because protecting patients and staff when a fire does occur can be a complex and even chaotic process.
 
When a major fire started at the Royal Marsden Hospital, London in 2008, three patients were in the operating theatre and six in intensive care. Few things are worse than having a major operation, but being in the middle of one when a fire breaks out, is surely a nightmare scenario.
 
But in fact, hospital fires are probably so infrequent because of the high level of protection required by government regulations and safety standards such as BS5839. Also when they do happen – for example, after a spate of fires in London hospitals in 2009/9 – the healthcare world has taken on board the lessons learnt from these real-life scenarios. 
 
One of the main problems at the Royal Marsden fire was lack of overall vision of the overall situation when a central control room was overcome by smoke. And in fact this sums up the main challenge of an estate or facilities manager both when preventing the fire in the first place – and then if an incident occurs.
 
Many large hospitals have evolved over the years. They’ve merged with other institutions, been extended and acquired far-flung clinics and other outposts as population hubs have grown. Over this time governments and their health policies have risen to power and fallen again. Procurement regimes have also changed and as a result, most extended sites have ended up with a mismatch of different fire detection and alarm systems, all with different maintenance needs.  No wonder it’s so difficult to get an overall view.
 
Thankfully technology can now address this challenge – both the problems of ensuring prevention and keeping compliant and of remaining in control if a fire happens. Drax Technology’s AMX software and SMaRT interfaces brings together information on systems regardless of manufacturer and across different buildings and multiple locations.
 
Monitoring every event, activation and operator activity, the software shows alarm history, checks on the status of every connected device and records in detail the reasons that caused the event in the first place.  It also verifies that important checks and routine maintenance have been carried out. The software can be used by the hospital itself to check the performance of fire alarm test and maintenance providers – or by the maintenance partners themselves to prove they have done their job. The reports generated will help demonstrate compliance too.
 
The system also provides a central source of information in the event of a fire and providing the IT infrastructure remains intact, PCs can be networked together so that all key information can be viewed from an alternative location if necessary. Information held can include building plans marking escape routes and specific information on, for example, the location of hazardous chemicals or patients with special needs.
 
Despite the promised NHS cash injection in 2016, the funding crisis won’t go away. Yet fire safety is too fundamental to compromise. Smarter technology is the only way forward.