Protecting your historic property against major fire

Following the devastating fire at Notre Dame, the risk of major fire will now no doubt be top priority for many heritage organisations trustees and some private individuals. Research by specialist insurer Ecclesiastical1 proves the risk of fire is the number-one concern for organisations operating out of historic properties.

The National Database of Fires in Heritage Buildings 2018 reports there were 265 fires in the six-months leading up to December that year.

Heritage organisations are the custodians of some of the nation’s most important and irreplaceable treasures. Notre Dame serves as a stark reminder for organisations to consider how to protect themselves against major fires which can destroy historic buildings and their contents with devastating effect.


Protecting historic buildings against major fire


Preventing fires in historic buildings presents unique challenges in comparison to modern buildings. Modern properties are built to current building regulations, reflecting strategies that support the safety of individuals in the building. In contrast, historic properties have evolved over time, are seldom still in use for the purpose for which they were originally intended and fire safety measures evolve with each change of use and the fire safety technology available at that time.    

The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires organisations and business to undertake a fire risk assessment to identify possible fire risks, people who may be at risk and to ensure adequate precautions are in place, for example:

  • Fire Detection - UK fire safety legislation requires organisations to ‘provide means for detecting fire and giving warning in case of fire’. Premises must be ‘equipped with appropriate fire detectors and alarms’.
  • Emergency Lighting - Fire Safety legislation is quite clear about emergency lighting – ‘emergency routes and exits requiring illumination must be provided with emergency lighting of adequate intensity’.
  • Signage - The law says ‘emergency routes and exits must be indicated by appropriate signs’. Fire safety equipment should also be easily accessible, which means signs are often required.
  • Fixed Wiring Inspections – Electrical faults are a major cause of fires. It’s crucial that fixed-wiring systems are regularly checked by an appropriately qualified electrician.
  • Restoration, Repairs & Alterations - Contractor Management – The risk of fire can significantly increase whilst building works are being completed. Careful selection and management of contractors is key to maintaining fire safety within the building. Insurance advice must be sought prior to any works being undertaken

Faith Kitchen, Heritage Director for Ecclesiastical commented: “As the leading insurer of Grade I listed buildings in the UK, we’re passionate about protecting the UK’s heritage. In the 130 years we’ve been insuring heritage organisations we understand how devastating a major fire can be. Understanding fire risks and how to prevent them is essential for anyone with responsibilities for heritage premises.”

Recovering your historic property after a major fire

Having bespoke insurance in place ensures organisations and individuals have the funds available to be able to recover effectively. It can take several years for a heritage building to be restored following a major incident such as a fire.

In April 2015, a fire started at the 18th-century mansion Clandon Park and quickly spread. The floors of the house collapsed on top of Surrey Infantry Museum, insured by Ecclesiastical, located in the basement. In just over three years since the fire, specialists have recovered 80% of the items that had been on display in the museum.

Paul Willis from Rowlands & Hames Insurance Brokers comments: “In addition to rebuilding the property in line with your listing requirements, business interruption is potentially of greater concern to many. Consider carefully both the amount of revenue you insure and any increased cost of working (such as the hiring of additional premises), plus planning delays, finding skilled person/s to restore a heritage property etc; it may be some time before you are fully recovered. Rowlands & Hames Insurance Brokers can support you to ensure you have the full cover you need if the worst happens.”

Fire protection must remain a top priority for the heritage sector.

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