Weekly Poll – Fire Escape Hoods

Each week Disability Equality Scotland send out a poll question to our members on a topical issue. For the week beginning 12 September 2022 we asked a question about Fire Escape Hoods.

Please note that this is a snapshot of the views of our membership and does not reflect a policy stance of Disability Equality Scotland. If you plan to reference the findings featured in this report, please contact us in advance so that we are aware of this.

Results

Question 1. Do you have any concerns about fire escape hoods?

Comments

We provide verbatim comments where appropriate to illustrate strength of feeling or personal experience.

Fire Escape Hoods

Following a recommendation from the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, fire escape hoods are being introduced by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) to provide protection from a smoke-filled atmosphere and therefore assist with rescue and evacuation. The smoke produced by fires contains harmful toxins, and fire escape hoods are designed to filter these to prevent breathing them in.

Respondents commented on the importance of improving fire evacuation procedures to help protect members of the public and potentially save life in a fire situation.

“I did not know about them – but what a great idea for those who cannot exit from a fire quickly or safely or be dependent on speedy evacuation which may or may not happen.”

“I think this may be a good step to evacuate a person and enable safe rescue from a smoke-filled area.”

“I welcome the use of fire escape hoods and would use one without hesitation. Alternative methods of escape will always be available to those that cannot or do not want to wear one which is also good.”

“As a retired fire officer, I think that this is a great idea and long overdue.”

“Any piece of equipment that has the potential to save lives is good. Granted it will not be suitable for everybody.”

Impact on Disabled People

Respondents reflected on the potential impact of fire escape hoods on disabled people.

Mental Health

A fire escape hood may cause panic and distress for people with certain mental health conditions which impact breathing such as anxiety or claustrophobia.

“In a panic situation, I would not trust myself to apply one of these hoods. I appreciate it would work but cannot guarantee that I could do it.”

“In terms of mental health, I could foresee the hoods being difficult to use in a high-anxiety situation and – as someone with anxiety – I might find it very claustrophobic and it might cause panic and distress for me in an already stressful situation where I’m stuck/unable to evacuate independently and scared and feeling helpless.”

“I for one can’t tolerate anything covering my mouth and my face as a whole. Even the mere thought of this scares me and has my heart pounding. Yes, for some, it’s a good idea and for a lot of people it would be a great help, but for myself and others who struggle with even wearing masks, no it won’t work.”

“I have worked with disabled refugees with mental health conditions who would just be terrified but not for obvious reasons.”

“What happens if someone is claustrophobic and pulls it off?”

Sensory Loss

Respondents noted that for people with sensory loss, a fire escape hood will affect navigation and the ability to move about safely. It will also make it more challenging for people with sensory loss to communicate.

“They need to take into consideration people who are visually impaired who wear glasses or people with hearing loss who rely on hearing aids or implants to communicate.”

“From a sensory loss perspective there are likely to be issues around orientation, level of mobility/guidance required and of course communication barriers.”

“I am partially blind with some hearing loss. Although I Understand the importance of wearing one, it will likely make it more challenging for me to move around and communicate.”

Mobility

Some disabled people with reduced mobility, balance and/or muscle strength may find it challenging to fit a fire escape hood.

“Muscle weaknesses or reduced arm movement could reduce a person’s ability to appropriately fix the hood.”

“The elderly gentleman I care for doesn’t have use of his hands. How is he going to put a fire escape hood on?”

Solutions

Respondents reflected on the various ways to address concerns about fire escape hoods.

Demonstration

Respondents suggested that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service must engage directly with disabled people. This can involve hosting awareness sessions that include demonstrations on how to wear a fire escape hood. A question-and-answer session may also provide further reassurance.

“Perhaps the fire service could deliver presentations to groups of disabled people to get them acquainted with the equipment before there is ever a need to use it. A TV campaign to raise awareness might be a good idea – invite people to go to their local fire station to try them out if they had concerns about using them. I did not know fire escape hoods existed until I saw this poll.”

“It might be worth the Fire Service giving us the opportunity to try on the hoods during home visits and open days, so that we know what to expect in terms of the sensory experience. I would appreciate the opportunity to see a hood in real life and try it on in a non-emergency situation so I can get used to it.”

“Is there a possibility for the SFRS to provide lessons, testing demonstrating or training to specific disability groups, using disability specific language to explain what the hoods are and how they work.”

“In our fire escape drills at my place of work, I have had the opportunity to use one as part of the evacuation drill, this has allowed me to experience the hood in advance, I have also had the discussions with the Fire Officer from the Fire Department who came and demonstrated the hood in advance and watched the video’s on how it saves lives. As a result of this, I am comfortable in wearing one should the need arise.”

Accessible Information

To reach as many people as possible, it is important that guidance produced for fire escape hoods is available in a variety of accessible formats. Examples of accessible formats include audio, Braille, British Sign Language (BSL), Easy Read, large print, and plaint text.

“I’m autistic and need things explaining to me in simple terms. I would also find it difficult to understand people speaking to me if they are in breathing gear. In airplanes they have these cards in seat pockets which have pictures on them which tell you what to do. Perhaps it would be possible to have a card like this in the packets with the hoods so that I could read it before the hood is put on. It would help people who do not speak English etc.”

“We need guidance on escape hoods in Easy Read which is a format that is particularly beneficial for people with a learning disability.”

“Whilst I can see they are a useful tool in certain circumstances, good guidance will need to be developed. I guess we need to prepare folk for that type of eventuality, both in terms of staff training in fire and rescue and the public that might be recipients.”

Conclusion

Respondents recognised the importance of improving fire evacuation procedures through the introduction of fire escape hoods. Respondents also reflected on the considerations of fire escape hoods on disabled people, and the impacts on people with mental health conditions, sensory loss, and reduced mobility. To address concerns, a number of respondents suggested that the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service must engage directly with disabled people by hosting awareness sessions. Guidance on fire escape hoods must also be produced in a variety of accessible formats.