“Mobility scooters are becoming increasingly popular in Europe and in the UK, in particular. A study backed by the government in 2014 found that there were between 300,000 and 350,000 users of mobility scooters.
And the growth shows no sign of stopping: currently, sales of scooters are increasing at around 5–10% per year. However, along with the benefits of owning a scooter comes a fire safety risk due to both the battery – which is a source of ignition – and arson.
While mobility scooters are great for users, unfortunately they can also create a fire safety hazard that can put lives at risk.
This is especially the case when they are parked in corridors or communal spaces within buildings such as council flats, social housing, sheltered accommodation and care homes.
Many of these dwellings are populated by a high proportion of people with limited mobility and therefore they face an increased risk in the event of a fire.
In the past, many older buildings were not designed for the safe storage and charging of mobility scooters. Also, the building design often means it is difficult to make the changes necessary for storing and charging scooters.
Problems arise from the building design in the form of a lack of storage space and also the layout of corridors, lifts and stairways.
As a consequence, users often have little choice but to leave scooters near to communal entrance doors, blocking protected escape routes or within protected stairways.
Plus, there might also be issues around getting a scooter through doorways in the first place, which can result in scooters having to be left in communal corridors or hallways.
In May 2015, the Building Research Establishment (BRE) carried out tests to measure heat release and smoke production rates from mobility scooters.
Using two machines of the type that are often taken indoors (rated as Class-2 Powered Wheelchairs and Scooters), they found that the ceiling temperature had reached 300°C only 3 minutes after the ignition of a scooter.
And the fire then spread to a second scooter after just 2 more minutes. Finally, after a total of 7 minutes, gas temperatures reached over 1000°C, at which time a significant amount of smoke was seen.
It was concluded that the most severe fires were likely to occur in incidents involving bigger scooters or a larger number of scooters.
However, the report made it clear that the findings should not be taken as suggesting that there is any difference in performance in the event of a fire between particular makes or models of mobility scooters.
Furthermore, the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) reported in its ‘Mobility Scooter Guidance for Residential Buildings’ that 66% of the scooter fires it examined were related to arson.
As scooters are often stored outside in an unsecured compound, it is common for fires to spread through windows and doors to the inside of buildings.
Putting it into a visual perspective, the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service has created a very striking video showing how a scooter fire develops. The video also offers relevant charging advice for mobility scooters.
The impact of any fire can be huge, obviously, and pose a risk to tenants, employees and firefighters alike; a scooter fire is no different.
Large quantities of smoke and heat can be produced, which worsens the spread of the fire and makes safe escape more difficult.
The situation is particularly hazardous in sheltered housing schemes because a blaze can become a serious problem within just 2 or 3 minutes and there are likely to be people present with limited mobility.
Even though the impact of fires related to mobility scooters can be very serious, the risk should also be put into perspective.
For instance, the NFCC states in its guidance that ‘statistically, the number of fires involving mobility scooters is low; however, the consequences when fires happen are particularly devastating.’
News stories about mobility scooter fires range from seeing a scooter “burst into flames” to reports of fatalities – for example, a fire caused by a scooter left charging overnight and another due to an arson attack.
The NFCC’s mobility scooter guidance provides numerous recommendations for scooter storage.
These include: (1) escape routes should be kept clear to enable all relevant persons to evacuate quickly and safely; (2) manufacturer’s guidelines should be followed; (3) ensure that any storage area within a building is of at least 30 minutes’ fire-resisting construction; (4) avoid charging at night (between 8pm and 8am) to reduce the risk to those who are a sleep; and (5) ensure any designated areas are maintained and are fit for purpose for storage and charging.
Plus, the landlord or housing provider’s risk assessment of all common areas should also consider mobility scooter storage. Through this, the fire risk can be identified and steps then taken to minimise or remove that risk.
In the case of new-builds, the design stage needs to adequately take into account the provision of suitable spaces for storage and charging of mobility scooters.
Councils have had responsibilities around the fire safety of their properties for many years. They should support the right of their buildings’ occupants to “a quality of life” which includes the desire to use a mobility scooter.
Our mobility scooter storage units here at metroSTOR are an ideal solution to these fire safety risks. The design of these units effectively removes the fire hazard associated with improper storage.
Easy to use and able to be located close to building entrances with direct access for users, each design is attractive, simple to install and – most importantly – safe.
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