Date of release: Friday, April 26, 2013

Professor Ed GaleaA unique research project into how people react when a blaze breaks out in their home has been launched, jointly led by the Fire Safety Engineering Group at the University of Greenwich and Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS).

Thousands of people who have experienced a house fire will be contacted during the project, in a bid to understand their actions and motivations both during and after a fire – something which has never before been done on this scale. The work, which ultimately may help save lives, will be rolled out across the south-east and, in time, nationally.

The project will provide increasingly detailed information as to how fire and rescue teams can improve or develop new services, by combining their knowledge and experience with a better understanding of what specific advice and support the public need. By learning from those who have experienced a fire, researchers aim to ensure that emergency advice and services are relevant and effective.

A total of £160,000 has been awarded to the project over three years under the Knowledge Transfer Partnership scheme. It is funded by the Technology Strategy Board, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and KFRS.

The two experts leading the research are Professor Ed Galea, Director of the university’s Fire Safety Engineering Group, and KFRS Investigation and Research Manager David Wales.

Professor Galea says: “The study of human behaviour in domestic fires has been neglected for over 40 years, yet most fire fatalities occur in domestic dwellings. By understanding how people behave in these situations we hope to greatly improve survivability in domestic fires.”

David Wales explains: “By actively seeking and listening to the victims of fire in Kent over the past two years we have recognised that there are areas where we can enhance our services, by placing their requirements and expectations at the heart of our thinking and planning. Alongside this, we have had to challenge, and in some respects identify, some of our own organisational beliefs and perceptions. This approach demonstrates a commitment to achieving not just a good outcome for the victim but the “best possible outcome”, both at the time of the incident and in the longer term.”

KFRS is currently working with the University of Greenwich to analyse surveys from 180 Kent residents who have suffered house fires – known as “accidental dwelling fires”. The results from this will directly inform KFRS services and also the next stage of the research. This will involve participation by eight other fire and rescue services in the south-east region which have also committed to support the project in their own areas.

KFRS Chief Executive Ann Millington adds: “We have always delivered an excellent and valued service to our communities but as a result of the human behaviour research many of us are now thinking about customer care in a very different way. Ultimately, the simple test is to consider what you would expect for your friends or family.”

Story by Public Relations