Fire Safety Crisis?

After the events of the Grenfell Tower, a huge increase on landlords being fined for lack of fire detection systems or unserviced systems, do we have a crisis on our hands?

Fire Safety Crisis In The UK?

23 June 2017

On the night of 13 June 2017 residents of the Grenfell Tower in North Kensignton, London, where unaware that the 24 storey high rise apartment block with 127 apartments and 227 bedrooms, was going to be under the spotlight of national media the following day. Sadly, in the early hours of 14 June, a fire broke out - now known to be the deadliest british fire since those caused by the Blitz air raids in World War 2 - the fire quickly spread through the building and a combination of missing or faulty fire safety equipment meant that many of the residents did not make it out of the building.

The fire continued to burn for 24 hours, with hundreds of fire fighters and 45 fire engines sent to tackle the fire. This poses the question - why did it spread so fast and what can we do to prevent this happening again?

Grenfell Tower Fire in London

Missing sprinklers in the Grenfell tower are a huge debate, should they have been there? Would they have helped? Geoff Wilkinson, the building regulations columnist for the Architects' Journal, wrote on 14 June 2017 that if a gas riser was leaking or the cladding were at fault, sprinklers would have had little effect. However, David Siber, an advisor to the Fire Brigades Union, said sprinklers would have prevented the fire, if it indeed started in a kitchen, from ever spreading beyond that room.

Another major concern in this particular incident, is that some residents said no fire alarms went off when the fire started and that they were alerted to the fire only by people screaming for help or knocks on the door and not by a fire alarm. This shows that poor or little servicing took place on the fire detection systems at the Grenfell Tower, resulting in the unfortunate and unnecessary loss of life.

Although the original cause of the fire has not been officially confirmed (as of 23 June 2017), it is widely accepted that the spread of the fire was aided from the recently added exterior cladding. The result of this meant many councils across the country began to look into the exterior cladding on high rises in their communities, with the question of fire safety looming.

Many councils have began tests on the exterior cladding of high rises, including dozens around Manchester. A tower block ran by Wythenshawe Community Housing Group (WCHG), said they were taking no chances and have began removal of their exterior cladding, as seen in the picture below.

Photo: Manchester Evening News

Councils with properties more than 59ft (18m) high with aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding must supply samples of the panels to Department for Communities and Local Government for fire safety tests to establish whether the material in their core is combustible.

On the 23 June 2017 - 9 days after the Grenfell Tower Fire - The Manchester Evening News reported that an 8 storey housing block in Manchester had faulty security gates, which did not open when the fire alarm went off THREE TIMES IN ONE MONTH. This meant that the firefighters had to use ladders to climb the fences before they could gain access to the housing block. This is case of poor or little servicing to the fire alarm and detection systems, as a working security gate should automatically open when the fire alarm is activated, allowing residents to evacuate safely and quickly.

Photo: Handout

Recent years have shown a huge increase on fines for landlords with improper or missing fire alarms or detection systems. The crackdown is surely a step in the right direction, but landlords and business owners must take fire safety more seriously without waiting to see if they will get fined, or get away with it. A lack of fire detection, or unserviced fire alarms is a direct risk on life, a risk which is often overlooked with the attitude of "it will never happen to me" - however, recent events, especially the Grenfell Tower fire, prove that fire safety is not something to ignore and is very important. A quick google search can show the problem at hand.

With the spread and scale of the Grenfell Tower fire, the exterior cladding on high rises accross the country and countless cases where there is a lack of fire alarm servicing - do we have a fire safety crisis in the UK? Have your say, Tweet to us today!

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