Home>Fire>Fire and Rescue >London Fire Brigade calls upon expert university scientist to help train firefighters 

London Fire Brigade calls upon expert university scientist to help train firefighters 

10 December 2020

FIREFIGHTERS WORKING for the busiest Fire and Rescue Service in the UK will now receive expert training from a De Montfort University scientist who specialises in the flammability of skincare products and fire investigation.

Dr Sarah Hall, senior lecturer in forensic analytical chemistry and forensic science at De Montfort University’s Leicester School of Pharmacy, was contacted by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) to share her expertise as part of its overall training package designed to help firefighters better understand the link between skin creams and fatal burns.

The collaboration follows on from Dr Hall’s research proving that fabrics with skin creams and lotions dried on can catch fire significantly faster than clean material and, as a result, pose a serious risk of injury or even death.

“I’m honoured to be working with the London Fire Brigade,” said Dr Hall. “Firefighters can help us to gain a much truer picture of what the cause of a fire might be. The more information we have to hand, the more research we can do.”

Dr Hall has recorded a series of videos for the LFB detailing her work and explaining how fire investigation makes a huge difference to the research being transacted. The short films will be incorporated in the online training provided for both new recruits and existing firefighters at the LFB.

“While fatal fires receive a high level of investigation, the London Fire Brigade is continually working to understand how accidental fires and injuries can be prevented,” said Dr Hall. “Our research proves that there’s a link between skin creams and fatal burns, but we need more information to further our work. Firefighters play a huge part in helping us do that. Whenever they attend an incident, even if it’s ruled to be accidental, it would be incredibly useful to know more information about the cause, and especially so if skin creams are involved.”

Training video

Sharon Biggs (care, health and safeguarding manager in community safety at the London Fire Brigade) said: “We’re producing an emollient training video for firefighters which will help them to understand how fire risk increases when emollients or skin creams are placed near a heat source or naked flame. Dr Sarah Hall has been working with the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) in an advisory role for a number of years now, and we believe that her expertise and research will add an integrity to our own training package based on scientific data that supports our own experiences in the Fire and Rescue Service.”

Briggs added: “The firefighter training will not only educate our own staff about the safe use of emollients and skin creams, but will also enable firefighters to feel confident enough to advise individuals whom they visit about the increased risk and how to mitigate the danger.”

Since 2010, there have been 56 confirmed fire deaths linked to emollient creams in England. A review found that those most at risk tend to be aged over 60, smokers and have reduced mobility. Thousands of people use emollient creams daily to manage dry, itchy or scaly skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. Those creams are easily transferred from skin on to clothing and then on to bedding.

The creams alone are not flammable, and nor are they flammable when on the body. However, the fire risk increases with every application of the cream as it transfers, dries and builds up on the fabric. Some cream remains even when items of clothing and bedding are washed, so it’s important to minimise the risk in additional ways, such as by removing long sleeved or loose clothing before cooking or using a safety lighter.

Fire prevention work

“Our own constantly evolving data collection, which is even more focused on the details around accidental fires, also means that our prevention work can be even more closely monitored and directed,” continued Briggs. “Dr Sarah Hall’s work has been an invaluable addition to the ongoing prevention work that we carry out ourselves and we’re extremely grateful to be able to use the very latest advice for our training package.”

In 2018, and as a direct result of Dr Hall’s work, the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) recommended that labelling of emollients and similar prescribed products should have larger, clearer and more visible warnings printed on packaging to encourage safer use and highlight the fire risk.

Earlier this year, to further raise awareness of the dangers associated with emollients, Dr Hall and the MHRA partnered with the NFCC on a new campaign entitled #KnowTheFireRisk.

The MHRA recommends that anyone in the high-risk group, or their carers, should arrange for a Fire and Rescue Service assessment of their personal surroundings. People are also urged to exercise caution when close to naked flames or potential ignition sources.

Award for Health Management partnership

The LFB has also won an industry accolade for its groundbreaking work with Health Management, one of the UK’s leading occupational health providers.

Working together since 2008, Health Management supports LFB’s 5,600 employees to maintain good workplace health when conducting their critical work. Innovations from the partnership include a pioneering hip replacement return-to-work programme which has enabled LFB employees to successfully return to full operational duties within a six-month period.

Successful initiatives also include a six-week Functional Restoration Programme, which employs education sessions, mindfulness, circuit training and on-site re-orientation in order to address musculoskeletal conditions.

Health Management and LFB were presented with the award for their Outstanding Contribution by an Employer to Workplace Health and Well-Being at the SOM Occupational Health Awards, which took place via a virtual ceremony on Thursday 5 November. The annual event highlights the value of occupational health to organisations and the wider community, recognising innovation, collaboration and verifiable outcomes in equal measure.

Speaking about the award, Matt Wood (managing director at Health Management) explained: “This award reflects the very positive and collaborative partnership which we’ve developed with the LFB. Together, we have developed initiatives which achieve the best possible health outcomes for LFB staff, who are truly exceptional people. The LFB’s dedication to maintaining the health of its employees is great to see, and we’re proud to support the Brigade in meeting its well-being objectives and continuing its critical work in London’s communities”.

David Amis, head of well-being at the LFB, responded: “The LFB is delighted to receive this award which reflects the importance that the Brigade places upon employee well-being and the creative ways in which it seeks to support good mental and physical well-being both in and out of the workplace.”