Focus on: Richard Pape Lead fire officer for the Trust

Before becoming the Trust’s fire officer Richard was a firefighter for 32 years. It’s this extensive experience that has given him the passion and determination to help prevent fires.

He said:

“I joke that people say to me ‘gosh that guy needs to get out more’ because they think I may be a little extreme in the promoting the lengths people should go to in order to prevent fires and to make sure they know how to get out of a building should the unthinkable happen. But the reality is that I have seen first-hand and too many times the horror that a fire can bring and the speed at which smoke can overcome someone in seconds leaving families devastated, and I do not want anyone in our Trust to have to experience that.

“The variety of the job certainly keeps you busy, one minute you are advising on new multi million pound hospital or healthcare developments with the designers, then training staff in the classroom or on the wards, meeting with estates officers advising on different projects, to carrying out fire risk assessments on all of our premises to ensure we are legal and compliant with the fire regulations. I network regularly with fire officers nationally to ensure we are adopting current and best practice.

“My main priority though is the safety and protection of our patients, staff, and all persons who enter our premises. It is my job to make sure that everyone knows what to do to prevent fires from starting, and how to react if one does occur and to do everything I can to reach that target of zero fires.”

Richard has been at the Trust 6 years now and in that time he is proud of his achievements. Most recently he has introduced electric wall-mounted cigarette lighters to all of the mental health inpatient units; this has halved the amount of fires that occur at these sites. He has also changed the style of delivery of training so that instead of being generic it is tailored to your role. He explained:

“We were teaching people that were office based as part of a generic audience, procedures that were applicable to ward based staff. Now I have developed modular training sessions to ensure that staff will now only receive the training which is relevant to the individual. I want to roll out more specific staff training to try and reduce the amount of false alarms that call the fire brigade out, such as when someone burns toast. The fact of the matter is that if the fire brigade are on their way to what turns out to be a false alarm they cannot possibly go to a real fire and it really does put lives at risk. I am proud of being able to introduce the electric cigarette lighters, it is a small change but it really has made a big difference.”

Richard talking to staff following a fire drill


Richard has also introduced fire wardens to the Trust. He explains:

“Fire Risk assessments are a legal requirement for all trust premises which are continually monitored by the trust fire officers, It is then ultimately up to the managers to make sure that items identified in these fire risk assessments are up to date and correct.  Fire wardens support these managers who help ensure that standards and procedures are met and are the workplace ' eyes and ears' who can flag up to the manager and trust fire officers regarding concerns about fire hazards and protocol. They can also carry out fire alarm tests, sweep the buildings during fire drill and take a register. One of my ongoing projects is to try and ensure that every Trust site has at least two trained fire wardens.”


Richard is supported by two other part time fire officers, Martyn Sutcliffe and John Smith, both of whom were former fire officers in Lancashire fire & rescue service. He said:

“I have a great team and we work closely with estates, learning network, the legal and investigations team, H&S Security Officer and with the communications team. Because Cumbria is such a large County having Martyn and John in the team means that we can get out and meet the trust staff face to face and provide regular on-site training and risk assessments, something that I feel is very important and that I was unable to do effectively when I was on my own.”

Richard is the fire lead for the mental health teams in the Trust he explained how this has its own unique difficulties:

“Being prepared for a fire if you work in a mental health ward is a little more difficult because even having a fire alarm test can cause understandable distress in patients, however everyone needs to know what one sound likes. We have to simulate a lot without causing undue distress on the patients, but this does not mean that mental health wards do not have fire drills - they do.”

Richard and his team are always thinking of how the Trust can do things better and improve on how to work towards that target of Zero fires. It is this approach to fire safety that has ensured this trust has never had a serious injury or death from fire. He said

“Unfortunately fires can and do occur in NHS premises and lessons can be learned from Royal Marsden, Chase Farm, Great Ormond Street, and Rose Park care home in Scotland where 14 patients unfortunately lost their lives due to amongst other things lack of staff training and awareness. This was a modern building and these deaths were avoidable if only the staff had reacted properly.”

His next project is to update to a modern standard the fire safety plans for our higher risk premises to include additional information that can be used for resilience planning, so that the emergency services have the information they need at their fingertips in the event of a major incident.  This is something that Richard and his team with support from other departments will strive to prevent happening in our Trust. Although some fires or other incidents can and do occur unexpectedly and without warning however careful you are, never becoming complacent and knowing how to react when this happens can make all the difference.