Fire safety in churches
Fires in churches can have a devastating effect. As well as damage to property, there is also a risk to life to be considered. When fire damage does occur, this can affect local communities, disrupting local user groups and the outreach activities of the church.
Typical hazards include:
• Defective electrical wiring and apparatus
• Faulty or poorly maintained heating systems
• Hot works during a repair
• Lightning strikes
By appropriately managing these risks you can significantly reduce the chances of a fire starting in your building.
What can you do to manage fire risks in a church?
There are many things that you can do to manage the fire risk at your church appropriately.
• Implementing and maintaining appropriate fire precautions
• Implementing appropriate fire safety arrangements
• Providing adequate firefighting and fire detection equipment
• Providing emergency routes and exits
• Implementing procedures to deal with emergencies and serious and imminent danger
• Appointing someone competent to assist you
• Providing adequate training and information
• Cooperating with others where appropriate
Fire Risk Assessments
It is a legal requirement to have a Fire Risk Assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. The Order requires that any commercial premises with more than 5 occupants must ensure that a thorough Fire Risk Assessment is undertaken by a Competent Person. To provide support, we offer a comprehensive Fire Risk Assessment service to identify potential risks and reduce the number of fire hazards at your site.
Every church should have at least two extinguishers of the appropriate type, and these should be examined and serviced at regular intervals. Site the extinguishers appropriately, for example near exit doors and high-risk areas such as votive candle stands. Make sure they are maintained on an annual basis. Train people to safely use extinguishers. Click here for more information on the different types and best practice use of fire extinguishers.
A fire blanket may be a better way of dealing with certain fire situations, and you should have at least one available for the service. They are particularly suitable for dealing with burning clothing.
Means Of Escape
If a fire should start, you must be certain that people can get out of the building quickly. All doors must be unlocked before the service and capable of being opened quickly. A steward should be located at each door and at least one person should be given the task of calling the fire brigade.
Stewards should have torches so that any minor problems can be dealt with quickly without bringing on the main lights. But in the event of a fire, or other serious emergency, the main lights must be brought on immediately.
Be prepared for fire
• Keep up-to-date fire risk assessments for your premises. Consider ways in which deliberate fires could be started and how you can prevent or reduce the risk.
• Keep a photographic record of your church’s key features, for example stained glass windows, and store the record off site. This will help if these items need to be restored or replaced following loss or damage.
• Have an emergency plan in place. Identify what steps need to be taken in the event of a serious incident. For example, who needs to be contacted? If there is the opportunity, which items need to be moved for safety?
• Larger churches should consider developing a business continuity plan.
• It’s strongly recommended that a team of stewards is appointed, and that each person has specific duties in accordance with a list of written procedures.
• A specific steward should be appointed to each door and must ensure that it opens easily before the service starts.
• Similarly, responsibility for fire extinguishers should be given to specific stewards who know how to use them.
• The person leading the service should be aware of the fire risk, and in the event of an emergency, be ready to ask everyone to leave in an orderly fashion following the directions of the stewards.
• For large services, a trained first aider with first aid equipment should be available.
• Candles should never be left burning when there’s no responsible person left in the church and always ensure all candles are extinguished before locking up.
Arson advice for churches
Arson poses a major security challenge for church communities. Fires are often started by arsonists, or by thieves concealing their crime, and sadly, churches are often viewed as a soft target.
How to reduce the risk of arson attacks at your church premises:
• Report suspicious activity to the police immediately
• Encourage parishioners and neighbours to visit the church grounds as part of their daily routine, and report any suspicious activity
• Use the building as much as possible for church and community activities.
• A damaged building is at risk of further attacks, including arson. Make regular checks to the building and report damage to the police and your insurers as quickly as possible
• Work with your local Crime Reduction Officer and keep in contact with other nearby churches to report damage and share advice.
• Fires can be started using everyday waste, so make sure it is collected regularly and try to store bins and refuse containers at least 10 metres from buildings. Consider using lockable bin lids, or creating a secure waste storage compound.
• Lock sheds and outbuildings – these often contain equipment that could assist an arsonist, such as petrol for a mower
• Remove items that can be used to start fires from inside the church, for example portable heaters and matches
• Keep internal doors shut when the building is not in use to prevent fires from spreading.
• At night lock your church doors, windows, and any external gates.
• Lock church halls when they are not in use.
• Keep your church visible by keeping trees trimmed and the grounds well lit.
• Consider installing fire alarm, intruder alarms, or CCTV, that provide continual monitoring to an alarm receiving centre.
If you would like further guidance about steps you can take to reduce fire risks in your church please call 0333 010 2000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org