15 Apr 2020
One year on from the devastating Notre Dame blaze London Fire Brigade is warning managers of London’s closed historic venues not to be complacent about fire safety during the coronavirus outbreak.
Twelve months ago today a blaze raged through the Parisian cathedral, destroying its roof and spire.
The fire prompted the Brigade to write to venue owners across London, urging them to consider emergency response planning to protect their buildings and the precious items they contain. The Brigade also launched a dedicated web page to support heritage sites with specific fire safety advice.
A year on and many of these venues have been forced to close due to the coronavirus outbreak but the Brigade is warning that it is now more essential than ever for venues to work with us on planning for an emergency.
During these uncertain times it is understandable that premises owners may be concerned about the safety of their buildings. The Brigade is issuing practical advice such as switching off non essential appliances, substituting older light bulbs with safer LED bulbs, and ensuring adequate control measures are in place if construction work is still being carried out on site. The threat of arson can also be reduced by removing combustible waste from around the site and ensuring all bins are kept away from the walls of the building, preferably in an area secure from public access. It is also essential to ensure that fire safety systems and equipment are maintained in good working order. Fire detection and alarm systems should be subject to regular testing and maintenance.
Having an up to date emergency response salvage plan is equally as important and this is something that venue managers can produce remotely. The plan, which will give our firefighters a strategy for their salvage operations, should identify the priority items that need to be removed from the building, along with other important information such as the size of the item, the number of people required to lift it, any security fastenings that need to be removed and also the exact location of the item within the premises.
London Fire Brigade’s Heritage Team Leader William Knatchbull said: “Help us to help you is my key message to building managers right now. We’re lucky to have so many beautiful historic buildings in London and we need to make sure they are treasured by generations to come.
“Currently many special buildings are closed to the public, so it’s even more imperative to get salvage plans in place. With less people on site, there may be a lack of information available to our fire crews in the first instance. Having a salvage plan available will allow us to commence our salvage operations in a formulated manner. Your emergency contact list should also be reviewed as in the current climate, some key staff members may be unable to attend in the event of an emergency.”
“Many of London’s venues have emergency response salvage plans in place and work closely with us. But there are still many whom we are yet to hear from, and while they may have plans in place, it would be prudent to work with us to ensure the plans are appropriate to be used by our firefighters in an emergency salvage situation.”
Law Society blaze
Twenty five fire engines were called to the Law Society of England and Wales when it had a fire late at night at the beginning of February. While the Brigade’s crews worked to contain the fire within the modern parts of the building and safeguard the listed parts of the building, it was fortunate that the historic library containing old legal text books and case law dating back to the 16th century were protected. The Law Society’s Head of Corporate Real Estate Tom Booton said: “We were very upset this happened to this wonderful and historic building. My advice for any building manager is know your building! Understand exactly what is historically significant so once the Brigade has controlled the fire, they can rescue or preserve things that cannot be replaced. I had a call with the incident commander at 4am to talk him through what was and wasn’t important within the building so he could focus his resources.
“The Brigade has a priority to preserve life, then the building, then contents. If you’ve plans, and know your building, you’ll save lives, time and you’ll probably save more of your building and its contents. Never think it won’t happen to you.”
Flooding at Marx Memorial Library
Last September firefighters were called to the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell. Fire crews manually rescued more than a thousand items due to flooding from the first floor of the building which affected the ground floor and basement.
Meirian Jump, the Archivist and Library Manager, said the flood was a massive shock: “A lot of paper based items were affected by water, before being removed to safety. Luckily staff were on site who knew our collection, without this, things could have been so different.
“The Brigade was absolutely wonderful, arriving in four minutes after we called 999. Twenty minutes later, crews were in our basement rescuing items in an incredibly sensitive and upbeat way.
“Workable salvage plans are so important. The better the salvage plan, and the more you can anticipate, the better you will be able to respond. This is why we’re currently working on a detailed salvage plan which the Brigade can use out of hours. We’re so lucky considering the potential devastation to our invaluable collection.”
Out of a library collection consisting of 60,000 items, fortunately only five items were lost and a further 30 needed conservation work. Luckily the building was only closed for a fortnight thanks to the crews and staff who worked quickly when the alarm was raised.
0208 536 5922
Photo credit: Simon Rozé RFI
Videos available to download:
William Knatchbull, Heritage Team later, talks about the importance of salvage plans
Case study of the Law Society of England and Wales
Case study of Marx Memorial Library
Credit London Fire Brigade for video content