One of the biggest ever fines to be levied for fire offences has been handed out to a care home!

On 13 September 2014 a fire broke out in a bedroom at Donwell House Care Home, Tyne and Wear. The door to the bedroom was propped open so that the smoke and heat spread quickly to the corridor. It continued onwards into another bedroom because the door to that room was also wedged open.

On hearing the alarm, staff acted to move residents to safer parts of the building. But an 81-year-old lady resident was trapped in her room by the smoke and heat in the corridor. Firefighters rescued her via the first floor window and fortunately she was unharmed. The fire caused significant fire and smoke damage to the wing which took several months to repair.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service carried out an investigation following the fire. Whilst the home was not implicated in the cause of the fire, a number of serious fire safety breaches were uncovered.

The failings included:

  • the wedging open of fire doors
  • just under half of the fire extinguishers in the premises had been condemned by the company’s appointed contractor, yet were still in place
  • the company had failed to carry out a number of actions identified in a fire risk assessment.

One of the recommendations arising from the fire risk assessment was to install electronic door hold-open devices. This would have enabled the bedroom doors to be propped open safely, allowing the care home to be operated in a safe manner.

Shaftesbury Care Group Ltd pleaded guilty to five breaches of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 . It was fined £380,000 with costs of £29,222.

Speaking about the case, Chris Lowther of Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, explained that it rarely prosecuted businesses but would do so “where lives are put at risk and the law has been broken” . This evidently reflected the magnitude of the risk run by the care home operator, given the vulnerability of its residents.