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Fighting fire with fire

I’ve often heard people ranting about health and safety, happily joining in the eyeball rolling when anyone mentions the ridiculousness of most of what is enforced. However, up until recently I hadn’t experienced the impact of it myself; I hadn’t experienced the sheer force of rage that courses through me when anyone mentions fire regulations.

Just to back track a little, when Danny and I first put an offer in for Little Leaf Guest House (previously known as The Great Escape) we knew that they hadn’t updated their fire system in a while and it was something that needed to be done before we could open. We understood this and the cost of the update was considered when we put in our offer. Fine. Not a problem. Or so I thought.

After a hunt around for quotes we were finally visited in mid-February by two chaps who were to install our new fire system. They set up their tools and proceeded to run red wires everywhere. We now have a hole in one ceiling the size of my head, and one of the many jobs that our builder had to do was make this look like a hatch for a loft space. They managed to destroy one of the few decent looking hallway walls in the whole house and have not even removed what was left of the old fire system so there are random red bells (circa 1970) dotted around the house, along with the odd smoke alarm from B&Q which we can only imagine the previous owners put up to tide them over.

The more they destroyed and the more red wires I saw coming out of every single ceiling, the more annoyed I got. For 3 days work they are being paid more than our builder for 4 weeks work. The fire system is ‘first class’ apparently, which means that if a guest eats a hot curry and breathes too near the smoke detector the whole thing will probably go off. Not to mention my tendency to burn toast in the morning.

I wouldn’t mind so much (well, at least I don’t think I’d mind so much) if that was it, but oh no there’s more. We have had to put fireproof plasterboard in the cupboard under the stairs because just in case the guests aren’t roused from their sleep by the sound of a thousand souls screaming in hell (i.e. our fire alarm) and have managed to sleep through half the house burning down, the stairs – their last vestige of hope of escape – should be the last thing to go.

On top of this all the doors have had fire proof strips ‘sewn’ into their sides because under extreme heat these strips expand and can halt the fire for up to half an hour. Sounds good right? But no, apparently these strips can’t be sewn into the underside of the door so the fire / smoke will escape out the bottom anyway. The locks in all the bedroom doors have had to be replaced by locks that don’t need keys to open the door from inside the room, and all our fire extinguishers have had to be MOT’d.

As I’m writing this I’m realising that, on an individual basis, these things make a lot of sense. It makes sense that the stairs are the last thing to burn down, it makes sense that guests can leave their room in a hurry without worrying about where they left the key, and it makes sense to have a fire detector in each room with doors that actually prevent fires from spreading too quickly.

I think what really riles me is the mess that this is making of our house and the cost of the whole thing. We aren’t going to be allowed to have a lovely glass feature in the hallway which lets in much needed light to the space, we cannot have pretty doors or nice door handles (without spending an absolute fortune), and we have to spend our relatively tight budget on a smoke alarm system that would not be out of place in a wooden chalet in the middle of a county that was susceptible to forest fires.

In two weeks we will receive a visit from the fire officer who may ask us to do even more than we have already and I will arrange to be out of the house that afternoon. Danny, ever the diplomat, ever the one who reminds me that our priority is the safety of our guests and we should do whatever is necessary, will conduct that meeting and I will bite my tongue when the fire guys come back to do their third (and final) day in our house, completely oblivious I’m sure to the fact that the entire place has been redecorated and the walls that are there need to be in the same state when they finish as when they started.