London Fire Brigade has warned that thousands of historic items in museums, galleries and heritage sites across London are at risk of being lost forever if venues do not have proper fire salvage plans in place.
Following the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in 2019, the brigade wrote to 350 venues across London urging them to consider emergency response planning to protect their buildings and the precious items they contain.
The brigade attended 1,285 fires at or near heritage sites in the last four years and 50 fires at cultural venues such as a museum or art gallery. Nationally, there’s an average of around 100 fires at heritage sites a month.
There is a dedicated heritage team within the brigade that works closely with cultural and historic venues to carry out drills and rehearse the response to an incident such as fire or flood.
The exercise at Kenwood House saw a mock fire take place. English Heritage staff used their expertise and knowledge to inform fire crews where items were and how they should be handled.
Such rescues are only possible when venues have up-to-date emergency response and salvage plans in place, and London Fire Brigade is reminding other venues to check their plans.
A salvage plan identifies not only what actions should be implemented by on-site representatives, but also priority items that need to be removed from the building, or protected in the place they inhabit, and allows fire crews to draw up recovery strategies in advance. Plans help firefighters decide what equipment is required to safely recover or protect items as swiftly as possible and minimise damage.
Salvage plans should include “grab sheets’, which contain vital information about the size of an item, the number of people required to lift it and the location of the item – having this in place can help firefighters save time in a fire or flood.
Every museum, gallery and historic building should have a nominated person responsible for the venue’s salvage plan, making sure that a plan exists and is kept up to date.
London Fire Brigade’s heritage team can provide advice and guidance in relation to salvage planning for organisations who need support. The brigade offers information and resources for heritage managers.
London Fire Brigade’s heritage team leader, William Knatchbull, said: “With so many heritage sites in the capital, part of our role is to preserve them for the next generation. We can’t preserve these beautiful and iconic landmarks without the venues themselves working with us to have emergency salvage plans in place. All building managers need to be aware how important it is to have a plan should the worst-case scenario ever occur. We welcome those people getting in touch with our dedicated team so we can ensure that the plans are appropriate both for the location and our crews, should they ever get a 999 call to attend an incident.”
Abi Marsh, the head of historic properties at English Heritage London, said: “Keeping our guests, staff, historic collection and buildings safe is our number one priority, we not only have incredibly stringent preventative fire protection measures in place but also understand the importance of our staff being prepared through training such as this week’s exercise with the London Fire Brigade. We are very grateful to all the team at the London Fire Brigade for their continued work supporting us in caring for our historic spaces.”
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