elderly care

Vulnerable People

As our population ages, we must embrace the reality of independent living for the elderly and people with physical or mental challenges. Alongside many benefits, this shift (notably in social and sheltered housing) will also have major safety consequences and costs. Simply put, people at high risk from fire are moving from environments where that risk is well managed, to places where it is not.

Vulnerable adults who live alone will normally need more time to perceive and escape a fire. Some also pose a higher risk because of memory deficits or unhelpful behaviour patterns such as hoarding. As a result, people still die in fires in buildings which are well maintained, have working smoke detection, comply with building regulations and are reached promptly by the fire service.

Housing providers have an obligation to be a part of the solution. Beyond their basic duty of care, the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) requires providers to rethink how they provide safe homes to these new types of resident. Landlords and housing officials who fail to address foreseeable fire safety issues risk prosecution, unlimited fines and even prison sentences.

Smoke alarms are a traditional first-line defence against fire. Research has shown that the ageing population cannot, for a number of reasons, be relied upon to respond correctly to an emergency situation, including escaping, raising the alarm and dialling 999, and we need to ask ourselves the following questions:



Will the person wake up?

Are they sedated at any time or on medication that would affect their ability to wake up?
Does the intake of alcohol affect their ability to wake up?

Will the person have the understanding of what the smoke alarm means?

Mental health, including dementia may affect the person’s understanding – is it a smoke alarm or just a noise?

Will the person have the ability to react correctly to the smoke alarm?

Mental health, alcohol and mobility issues will all have an effect on the person ability’s.

Will the person have the ability to escape from the property?

Many people with dementia will attempt to tackle a fire instead of leaving the property.

Will the person be able to call the Fire Service?

Mental health, alcohol and mobility issues will all have an effect on the person’s abilities.


This assessment will prove whether we need to provide a higher level of protection, the higher the risk the more protection is required. Sprinkler systems must be seen as a key tool in managing the risk of fire for vulnerable individuals. In retrofit situations, sprinklers are often not a practical solution. Some Fire and Rescue Services have begun to work with housing providers, piloting the use of Automist and other retrofittable water mist units where risks are highest.

As a single-compartment, retrofittable water mist system, Automist offers a different cost/benefit proposition to traditional sprinklers. Like a sprinkler system, Automist can control fire growth, greatly increasing the available escape time for the elderly, infirm and vulnerable, but water damage is reduced and installation greatly simplified. As a personal protection system, Automist has been used by a variety of organisations, including Westminster Almshouses Foundation, Exeter City Council, and the London Borough of Camden.

  An increasing number of organisations and house builders are installing Automist in their developments.   View case studies

Automist Types

Where a premises is likely to be used to house vulnerable people for the foreseeable future, a Smartscan installation is ideal. This requires a dedicated mains circuit in FP200 cable and a water supply with 1-10 bar pressure and a flow of at least 6 litres per minute.


Automist PPS is a portable version of the Automist system with an integrated water tank and battery back-up system. Automist PPS provides water mist personal protection in a single room, in an easily installable and removable package which does not require a dedicated power or water supply. The system is designed for low visual impact so that it can be discreetly installed in all types of homes. Click here to learn more.