When you are aware that there is a fire in a building, your natural instinct is to get out. However, it is very common for high rise buildings, purpose built blocks of flats and sheltered accommodation to have a “stay put” policy – this essentially means that unless the fire is in your own flat, you should not evacuate, but you should stay put and wait for any further instructions from the fire brigade.

A Controversial Policy

The stay put policy can be controversial – in the dreadful Lakanal House tower block fire in Southwark nearly six years ago, it resulted in the deaths of six people, who were told to remain in their flats by the emergency services.

In that context, and because it is against our natural instincts, it’s easy to see why “stay put” evokes fierce opinions. However, it is a suitable policy for buildings – but only when they meet current regulations about compartmentation. In a compliant building, a fire in one flat should remain contained there for at least one hour, allowing plenty of time for the fire brigade to get it under control.

Reasons for Implementing Stay Put

The stay put policy is designed to save lives. In a compliant building, it eases pressure on escape routes, leaving them clear for those who do need to evacuate. It also reduces panic and chaos, which can in themselves lead to injury or even death as people try to escape. Evacuating large numbers of panicked people through smoke filled areas is also dangerous, as long queues may mean smoke inhalation problems.

Following the Lakanal House fire, the London Fire Brigade increased its inspections of tower blocks by 44%. The eventual report into the incident conceded that those that died should have been told to evacuate, but laid most of the blame on the building itself, which was not fit for purpose and should therefore not have had a stay put policy. Used properly, this is a policy which makes a lot of sense, however counter-intuitive it may seem, but before implementation it is essential that a proper fire risk assessment is a carried out by a qualified person.

See this short video on Stay Put policies produced by the London Fire Brigade.