Firefighters strike: 5 ways to reduce the risk of fire at a vacant property

60 fires a day

60 fires a day were report­ed last year as tak­ing place in or next to an emp­ty prop­er­ty or derelict site in the UK. VPS, the vacant prop­er­ty spe­cial­ists who look after tens of thou­sands of vacant prop­er­ties across Europe, has issued some top tips to reduce the risk of fire espe­cial­ly dur­ing the fire­fight­ers strike, which begins today.

Whilst fires can occur on any site, vacant prop­er­ties are par­tic­u­lar­ly vul­ner­a­ble” explains Simon Alder­son, Com­mer­cial Direc­tor for VPS, and also the chair­man of the British Secu­ri­ty Indus­try Association’s Vacant Prop­er­ty Pro­tec­tion Group. Fires can start because of faulty gas or elec­tric­i­ty pow­er sup­plies, or by van­dals, and an emp­ty prop­er­ty is prone to neglect if it is not mon­i­tored 247 or reg­u­lar­ly inspect­ed, and an eas­i­er tar­get than an occu­pied one. But there are some sim­ple steps prop­er­ty own­ers can take to help reduce the risks of fire sig­nif­i­cant­ly, and some of these would apply just as much to occu­pied premises.”

Five tips to reduce the risks of fire

i) Remove com­bustible mate­ri­als from inside or near the site

Clear paper rub­bish and remove fur­ni­ture or plas­tic that the pre­vi­ous ten­ants may have left behind, or may be gath­er­ing (such as post) whilst the prop­er­ty is left vacant. If there’s a skip or bins out­side, make sure they are reg­u­lar­ly emp­tied. There were 85,000 refuse fires last year.

ii) Turn off the utilities

Turn the elec­tric­i­ty, water and gas off, and ensure they are kept secure­ly off by using spe­cial locks, such as the VPS PacLock, which pre­vents acci­den­tal or mali­cious turn­ing on of sup­plies. But be care­ful you are not com­pro­mis­ing the terms of your insur­ance – dur­ing the win­ter for exam­ple, some insur­ers insist a tem­per­a­ture lev­el of 15 degrees centi­grade is main­tained in order to com­ply with their terms. In these cir­cum­stances, ensure the alerts sys­tems in Tip iii) below are in place.

iii) Install alarms and alert systems

There were no auto­mat­ed fire alarm sys­tems in 50% of all com­mer­cial and pub­lic build­ings fires last year (that’s over 10,000 fires). In addi­tion to a fire alarm, there are also spe­cial alarms that use tech­nolo­gies that can detect if water flows through a pipe sud­den­ly, or if some­one tries to cut through some cop­per pip­ing, such as VPS Ver­i­flow. Met­al theft of cop­per pipes dra­mat­i­cal­ly increas­es the chances of fire dam­age if the pipes are pro­vid­ing mains gas sup­plies. For some sites, con­sid­er installing com­bined alarm and cam­era sys­tems that not only detect intrud­ers or fire risks, but also deter vandalism.

iv) Reg­u­lar­ly mon­i­tor and inspect sites

Today’s fire­fight­ers strike is like­ly to be one of a series of actions, and whilst those on strike will be allowed to return for major inci­dents, many fires will need to be attend­ed to by a skele­ton staff, reservists, con­tract­ed-out per­son­nel or by the army. Keep­ing a reg­u­lar eye on emp­ty sites helps to ensure no build up of com­bustible mate­ri­als or pos­si­ble dam­age to util­i­ty sup­plies has tak­en place since the last inspection.

v) Perime­ter security

There are many options for pro­tect­ing and secur­ing vacant prop­er­ties. Walk­ing the perime­ter will help iden­ti­fy any obvi­ous weak­ness­es that might encour­age van­dal­ism or theft. Hard­wood screens for ground floor win­dows, for exam­ple, are not as effec­tive as met­al screens, and are sub­ject to attempts of arson in themselves.

The fire­fight­ers strike appears to be care­ful­ly planned so as not to increase the dan­ger of fires sig­nif­i­cant­ly, but vacant prop­er­ties are not only more vul­ner­a­ble, but also obvi­ous­ly less of a pri­or­i­ty than occu­pied sites. ” Says Mr Alder­son. Our expe­ri­ence is in sup­port­ing both res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial prop­er­ty own­ers to pro­tect their vacant prop­er­ties. We clean them, pre­pare them and main­tain them in prepa­ra­tion for re-let­ting or sell­ing, and last year over 20,000 prop­er­ties that VPS man­aged were re-let or sold. We hope these tips will help pro­tect them fur­ther dur­ing this peri­od from the risk of fire.”