London Fire Brigade to carry out project to improve carbon monoxide safety on London's boats

By Emily Dalton

18th Oct 2023 | Local News

Firefighter Matt Clark, left, Richmond Borough Commander Rob Davies, and Firefighter Rhodri Davies on a bridge leading onto Tagg's Island. (Photo: London Fire Brigade)
Firefighter Matt Clark, left, Richmond Borough Commander Rob Davies, and Firefighter Rhodri Davies on a bridge leading onto Tagg's Island. (Photo: London Fire Brigade)

A critical project is underway to improve the carbon monoxide (CO) safety of people living on boats in London. 

The project, partly funded by the Carbon Monoxide Research Trust, is being carried out by London Fire Brigade. 

London Fire Brigade project manager, Emma Fraser, said: "This project will make houseboat owners more aware of the risks of CO and fire, as well as helping to identify whether there are any trends, such as a seasonal variation in CO levels." 

It will involve fire station crews carrying out around 1,700 Home Fire Safety Visits tailored to houseboat residents over a 12-month period. 

The latest round of visits took place at Tagg's Island in Richmond.  

Tagg's Island resident Grant Braban pictured with London Fire Brigade. (Photo: LFB)

The exact number of people living on the rivers and canals of London is unknown. 

A report by the Greater London Authority in 2014 found there could be as many as 10,000 people. Economic austerity since 2014 would indicate the number is now significantly higher. 

Ms Fraser added: "Boats have small living spaces, much the same size as a small bedsit. However, they are also sealed containers, essential for keeping water out, but also equally effective at retaining gases and fumes.  

"Many boats have multiple potential sources of fire and CO. They may also have multiple engines and appliances for cooking, heating, and lighting. Some of these will be powered on or in use whilst occupants are sleeping." 

CO poisoning symptom include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, breathlessness, collapse, loss of consciousness.

The research will create a clearer picture of the demographics of London's houseboat population and aims to give a much more informed picture of carbon monoxide (CO) levels on houseboats in the capital. 

Each visit will include tailored advice on fire safety, CO and water safety whilst also providing free smoke and CO alarms, as well as a CO logger. 

The logger solely records CO levels for a period of one month before being sent off for analysis at Liverpool John Moores University. 

London Fire Brigade Assistant Commissioner, Charlie Pugsley, said: "We are delighted to be part of this exciting project as we are committed to protecting all communities in the capital, including those often forgotten such as those who reside on live aboard boats. 

"This innovative research will not only help us to provide invaluable safety information on fire, CO, and water to residents through our tailored home fire safety visits, it will also collect information on daily and seasonal variations of CO levels in these boats, helping to inform future prevention advice nationally." 

Baroness Ilora Finlay, Chair of the CO Research Trust said: "CO is known as the silent killer. We breathe in CO like normal air, with no irritation to our noses or throats. Sadly, for many people, they are poisoned by CO before they are even aware. It is vital that projects like this are funded, so that people who are at increased risk of CO exposure, are made aware of the danger." 


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