HUNDREDS of Blackpool businesses are risking the lives of their customers by breaching basic fire safety rules.
New figures revealed to The Gazette show 300 premises – including shops, hotels, pubs, restaurants and rented accommodation – failed safety audits in the last year.
And fire chiefs today warned “cutting corners” could lead to a tragic loss of life, as was the case when 39-year-old Stephen Smith died in a blaze in a Blackpool hotel.
Steve Harman, a South Shore firefighter and secretary of the Lancashire branch of the Fire Brigades Union, said those who shirked making sure their premises measure up to fire safety rules faced tough penalties.
He said: “If they’re caught cutting corners, they will be caught and possibly taken to jail, because things like this can lead to tragedies with large losses of life – it’s not acceptable.”
A 10-strong team of fire safety officers have carried out 882 assessments on premises in Blackpool since October 2011, and found more than a third of all those surveyed were putting people at risk of harm.
Premises in Claremont ward in North Shore and South Shore, where there are a high number of run-down houses of multiple occupancy, were specifically targeted by fire safety officers last year while other audits were carried out across the resort at random.
Fire hazards included faulty or untested smoke alarms, blocked fire exits, dangerous faulty wiring, inadequate fire extinguishers and flammable materials such as dry cardboard and paper piled high in properties.
Sean Hennessy, Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s fire safety manager for the Western area which includes Blackpool and the Fylde, said audits were failed in shops, hotels, pubs and restaurants but absentee landlords were largely to blame for the high number of failures.
He said: “We take fire safety very seriously and will seek out those who put people’s lives at risk.
“We will seek out irresponsible landlords and we will take them to court because they’re the biggest risk in any area so that’s where we put our resources.
“They are happy to take the money but have got to face up to their responsibilities.
“The biggest problem is a lack of management, things like not testing fire alarms or fire doors.
“The type of premises we’re looking at are more likely to have a fire because people live there as a temporary measure and aren’t as bothered about their surroundings, so we must make sure that fire precautions are top standard.”
In 2009 Nicholas Danby, owner of the Manor Hotel, on the Promenade, Blackpool, was handed a one year suspended sentence after 39-year-old Stephen Smith died in a blaze at the property two years previously.
More than 100 firefighters battled the blaze which broke out in the early hours of September 17.
A court later heard Danby had failed to maintain smoke alarms or properly train his staff and none of the alarm klaxons sounded as Mr Smith died in his room.
Business owners found to have breached fire safety regulations can face criminal prosecution which could lead to a fine of up to £5,000 in a magistrates court or unlimited fine in a crown court, a jail term or their premises being shut down.
James O’Kane, owner of the former Tynan Hotel on the Promenade and The Compton, on High Street, Blackpool, was fined almost £13,000 for not having working fire alarms or a fire safety plan in 2009.
Firefighter Harman said business owners have to ensure they are not breaching fire safety regulations.
He said: “The onus is now on employers and business owners to self-regulate but they still have to adhere to the regulations.
“It’s crucial businesses are policed and we’ve seen quite a few cases of individuals who have been taken to court because they’ve compromised lives.”
Last month landlord Neal Gilligan received a suspended six-month prison sentence for the appalling upkeep of seven flats, which was only exposed after a fire broke out in one of the flats on Park Road, St Annes.
Gilligan, of Gloucester Road, Lytham, had failed to rectify “serious” fire safety issues at all of his flats on Park Road, St Andrew’s Road South, Glen Eldon Road and All Saints Road.
Preston Crown Court heard people were put at risk of death or serious injury because fire alarms were switched off and damaged, extinguishers and emergency lighting were in poor condition and exits were blocked by boxes, old carpet, broken furniture and, in one case, a motorbike.
And iCoun Fred Jackson (left), who serves as a member of the Lancashire Combined Fire Authority, called for those failing safety checks to be held to account for their actions. He said: “The figures are very high but I think it shows the fire authority is taking their responsibilities to protect the public very seriously.
“If the evidence is people are cutting corners they’ve got to be held responsible for that.
“There’s no half measures when it comes to this because people’s safety is paramount and we will not tolerate those who do cut corners.”