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Community / Fire safety in care homes should be as robust as possible, councillor says

Isleshavn Care Centre. Photo: SIC

ADDITIONAL measures could be implemented at Shetland’s care homes to further increase fire safety, a report has suggested – with one senior councillor calling for ‘mist’ sprinkler systems to be installed at centres across the isles.

Allison Duncan told a meeting of Shetland Islands Council’s audit committee on Wednesday that investing in further measures would in effect to be a “spend to save lives” policy.

It follows a report from consultants on the fire safety provision at three care homes in Shetland – Isleshavn in Yell, North Haven in Brae and ET/Taing House in Lerwick.

It concluded that the homes met current legislative standards and had good fire safety management.

However, it said that additional measures could be implemented to add extra security.

The recommended changes ranged from removing curtains and soft furnishings from escape routes to upgrading ceiling hatches and repairing attic fire barriers.

The report highlighted that since the buildings were constructed, with more people looked after in their own homes, folk are generally entering care homes later in life.

This means that fire evacuations would be more complex and demanding.

There is a sprinkler system in ET House in Lerwick but there was “no evidence” of maintenance and testing in the 12 months prior to the site visit.

At Tuesday’s meeting audit committee chair Duncan also recommended for reviews to be carried out in the rest of Shetland’s care homes, which members backed.

The reports are now set to go in front of the council’s policy and resources committee later this month, although it will be up to the health and social care partnership integration joint board to make recommendations.

Any changes in fire protection would also involve Shetland Charitable Trust, which owns five of the isles’ care centres, and Crossreach, the operator of the Walter and Joan Gray home in Scalloway.

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The bill for the initial inspections was around £32,000 and it is expected that future reviews would cost in excess of £50,000.

The meeting also heard that any extensive work in care homes to further the fire protection measures could be costly.

But Duncan said the safety of Shetland’s elderly population was of paramount importance.

He also praised the work of staff working in the isles’ care homes.

South end councillor Robbie McGregor questioned if smaller improvements suggested in the reports, such as curtains being placed near fire exits, had already been enacted.

Corporate services director Christine Ferguson confirmed that issues with soft furnishings have already been dealt with.

Duncan spoke at length, and with some vigour, about the issue of fire safety in care homes – an issue he has fought for a number of years.

He raised a number of potential issues, including the challenge of evacuating residents during the night.

“Another issue that concerns me is the structure of the buildings,” he said.

“That has to be looked into.”

The councillor also raised the issue of the fire service accessing care homes in a timely manner.

“There could be problems in the North Isles if the ferry has technical problems,” he said.

Duncan also mentioned the possible issue of resilience in certain areas, such as in the Westside, when it came to the availability of fire fighters.

He also referred to the recent Fair Isle Bird Observatory and Moorfield Hotel fires.

“If you are not aware none of these two pretty modern buildings had any sprinklers or mist systems in place,” the councillor said.

He said he would “fight and take it to the very last ends” to make sure fire safety is at its most thorough in care homes.

“I will continue to advocate that we should go as far as to make safety and security to our most vulnerable people the best that we can give them,” the councillor said.

Duncan added that sprinkler systems are now in place at the Montfield and Newcraigielea homes in Lerwick.

“If that’s the case for those it should be exactly the same for the others,” he said, something which westside member Catherine Hughson supported.

Councillor Emma Macdonald, who chairs the integration joint board, said it was reassuring to hear the positive aspects of the report.

“I spent the last five months working in ET and Taing and I have been really reassured how fire safety works in practice,” she added.

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