Warning over fire safety

LANDLORDS of houses converted to flats and bedsits were today urged to ensure they fit smoke alarms in the properties to protect their tenants.The call from the Health Development Agency (HDA) is the latest in a series of moves to try to improve safety in properties in multiple occupation.

LANDLORDS of houses converted to flats and bedsits were today urged to ensure they fit smoke alarms in the properties to protect their tenants.

The call from the Health Development Agency (HDA) is the latest in a series of moves to try to improve safety in properties in multiple occupation.

The Evening Star has been backing the campaign following the death of teenagers Rob Giles and Will Stokes in an horrific fire in Felixstowe.

Earlier this month Rob's mum Maggie Giles welcomed calls for life-saving sprinkler systems and national safety standards for bedsits.

The HDA has called for smoke alarms to reduce the thousands of deaths and injuries caused annually by accidental fires and says there is increasing risk of incidents caused by candles, tree lights and decorations at Christmas-time.

It is especially concerned for tenants in houses of multiple occupation (HMOs), such as student lettings, bedsits and hostel accommodation.

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HDA chief executive Paul Streets said: "Without working smoke alarms, vulnerable tenants – especially children from poorer backgrounds and older people – are at risk.

"Landlords can help save lives by ensuring they install smoke alarms."

The agency said there was substantial evidence to show that the use of smoke alarms will reduce burn injuries, and if possible they should be wired to a mains supply or include a 10-year battery lifetime guarantee.

Rob Giles, 18, and his friend Will Stokes, 19, died when a candle or a faulty TV set caused a blaze at their top floor room in Holland Road, Felixstowe.

Smoke engulfed the room in the house – converted into bedsits without planning permission – within minutes and the sleeping teenagers never woke up.

The inquest heard that there had been a smoke alarm in the house but this had failed to wake the teenagers.

Around 35pc of all fire deaths and 39pc of all fire injuries occur in HMOs. Many of these premises in Felixstowe have had smoke alarms fitted thanks to funding from county councillor David Rowe.

Mrs Giles has welcomed government plans for legislation improve the conditions of bedsits and flats and bring in a licensing system, and the Local Government Association's bid to make sprinkler systems compulsory.

She did not blame the owners of the Holland Road house for the fire in which the teenagers died and said there was no negligence or lack of care. She felt the accident must be a terrible thing for the owners to live with.

"I found the statistics relating to fire deaths and injuries in multiple occupancy housing quite startling, and would welcome any legislation which would protect the safety of tenants in such accommodation," she said.

"I feel that young people like Rob are especially vulnerable – their economic situation forces them to seek inexpensive accommodation and it is important that their safety is not compromised as a consequence.

"I hope that local government grants will be made available to help landlords make the required fire safety provisions."

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