Fire & Rescue, Fire Safety, Social Housing
Safety technology won’t necessarily change everyone’s behaviour, but with real-time data at their fingertips residents can be better informed and look after one another, and—looking further ahead—greater interoperability will enhance and enrich their lives.
In an ideal world, fire safety technology that connects and empowers communities while changing behaviours and authorities acting on relevant data insights to activate quicker interventions will reduce the number of fatalities caused by fire down towards zero. But, if this is a fantasy, how do we make this a reality in the coming years?
According to the government data published in November 2021, there were 249 fire-related deaths in England in the year ending June 2021. While that figure was 14 fatalities higher than the previous 12-month period—possibly due to more people being at home during the pandemic-induced lockdowns—it was around the expected mark.
The number has exceeded 300 only once in the past nine years – the year of the tragic Grenfell Tower fire, which officially caused 72 deaths. Although the figure has seemed to be plateauing around the 250-mark, the advancements in emerging technologies – especially the Internet of Things (IoT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) – provide a route to smarter fire safety, argues Nick Rutter, Co-Founder and Chief Product Officer at FireAngel.
“There is massive scope for improvement by being able to connect a whole host of different devices,” he says. “Through applying technology such as AI we can move from passive or responsive fire safety—using alarms to keep people alive, out of fire situations—to active or preventative fire safety.
“By employing predictive, AI-powered technology, we’re able to prevent fires even happening in the first place. It gives a fantastic insight into what’s happening in a situation, which allows fires to be more accurately pinpointed and for nuisance alarms to be more accurately rejected.”
FireAngel, which has sold almost 70 million fire-safety devices since 1998, has developed its IoT and AI capabilities for nearly a decade. The flexibility and connectivity at scale offered by its devices appealed to Paul Cook, Interim Health and Safety Manager at Ealing Council. He recently ordered approximately 17,000 smart smoke alarms to be installed in 14,000 socially rented properties in the borough. He, too, is excited by the prospect of technology enabling active fire safety, and more.
“We’ve now gone from a place where a smoke alarm was an elementary item installed in a home to the rollout that we’re doing at the moment, where we’ve got perhaps ten smoke detectors in every room of the property all linked together,” says Paul. “This gives us real-time data not only around fire and the presence of smoke but also some early indicators of behaviours in the properties.”
Looking further ahead and thinking about the potential of better analysis of data, Paul continues: “We will stop to focus on simply the fire safety side of things, and start to pull together data from smoke detectors, boilers, utility readings, and therefore gain a more interoperable and holistic view of what’s going on in the property, rather than relying on individual systems. We are looking at rolling out some boiler controls next.”
The installation of the FireAngel devices has produced a unique opportunity for the Ealing Council team to engage and educate residents, who use a smartphone application to monitor and access the data and take a big step to create a more connected community. The process has proven helpful for Paul, too.
“We have identified several people who have vulnerabilities we didn’t know about before during the installation process,” he explains. “For instance, we found about 200 people were hard of hearing and couldn’t hear the smoke detectors going off. As a result, we have installed devices to assist them.”
While technology can’t necessarily change everyone’s behaviour, Nick Rutter states that by making fire safety data available to friends and family then connected communities will be safer as they can raise the alarm if an individual is putting themselves at risk. “The app that FireAngel products have is exactly the type of technology that can drive engagement and adoption with users,” he says.
“We know from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry and reports of other fires that communities have adopted WhatsApp, for instance, because it’s flexible and familiar and good in a group environment. There is a natural, innate desire for communities to look after members, and this tech can strengthen that bond.”
The products introduced by FireAngel will also strengthen the so-called golden thread of information about a property that, according to government literature, “allows someone to understand a building and keep it safe, and the information management to ensure the information is accurate, easily understandable, can be accessed by those who need it and is up to date … Without this information, it is very difficult to manage buildings safely.”
Nick Rutter agrees, urging housing association leaders to shift their mindsets for the digital era and upgrade their systems to gain a more comprehensive view of properties and the behaviour of residents so they can provide a better service. “It’s very easy to look at the short or the medium-term, and miss the potential,” he says.
“It comes back to the goal of getting towards zero deaths. That has to be the long-term vision, and if you work backwards from that then you will be aiming in a better direction earlier.”
Stressing the power of connected data, Nick says: “You’ve got to look at the overall quality of life of residents. Fire safety is a critical element of that, as is carbon monoxide and gas safety. But now, we have the technology to look at temperature and humidity within the property. And there is the potential integration of other care and protection technologies to look after the more vulnerable people in society.”
He adds: “Technology enables housing associations and local authorities to go beyond and take a holistic approach to ensure that the quality of life of residents is improved. Now we can use tech to level up.”
The future of fire safety is in our hands, literally—as real-time data on smartphone apps informs communities and influences behaviours and smarter interventions. But it’s up to those in positions of power to commit to technology and a zero-deaths vision today for a safer tomorrow.
Listen to Nick Rutter, Paul Cook and Oliver Pickup continue their discussion around safety technology and fire safety in the full video below or get in touch with our team if you would like to find out further information about any of the technology referenced.