The latest update from Councillor Malcolm Grimston was received on 16 April with regards to the proposed retro-fitting of water sprinklers in 10+ storey blocks in the Wandsworth Borough Council ward.
From: Malcolm Grimston
To: News from Councillor Malcolm Grimston
Sent: Tuesday, June 19, 2018 5:45 PM
Subject: 10+ storey news update June 10 2018
Dear All,Please pass this on to anyone who might be interested. If you wish to unsubscribe please drop me an email.
There doesn’t seem to be anything to report here – the Council kicked the whole issue of imposing sprinklers on residents into the post-election long grass but the new Cabinet Member, Kim Caddy, has not as yet made any pronouncements (that I am aware of).
ANNIVERSARY OF GRENFELL
The anniversary of Grenfell has been a sobering and distressing moment and I know all our thoughts remain with the survivors and the families of those lost. The Public Inquiry is now under way and the BBC is producing a podcast every day with key evidence – see https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p066rd9t/episodes/downloads. There is also an extraordinary investigation into the events leading up to and after the disaster by Andrew Hagan called The Tower in the London Review of Books – see https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n11/andrew-ohagan/the-tower?gclid=EAIaIQobChMIgJ-d1ovg2wIVDeEbCh3hpwS4EAAYASAAEgI0GPD_BwE. It seems clear that much of the criticism of Kensington & Chelsea and the TMO was harsh but there are serious question to be asked about the regulatory system that allowed the flammable cladding to be fitted and the advice from organisations such as the Fire Brigade.
Cladding is being removed at Sudbury House in Wandsworth and Castlemaine in Battersea and the Government is going to pick up the cost. This is clearly good news for the Housing Revenue Account as the bill will come to well over £10 million. The money (£400 million nationally) is to be taken out of the Affordable Housing Programme, the already modest government scheme to increase the supply of affordable and social housing (the whole programme outside London amounted to just less than £1 billion per year from 2015 to 2018). It is pretty clear though that there will be no central government money for sprinklers as the government’s view (quite rightly) is that this is not essential work.
WOULD SPINKLERS HAVE SAVED GRENFELL TOWER?
Code Consultants International is a consultancy whose partners include Colorado State University and BAW Architecture. Their take on Grenfell and sprinklers is as follows (their emphasis):
“A sprinkler system may have prevented the spread of fire from the apartment of origin to the combustible facade. However, once the facade caught on fire the internal sprinkler system would not have prevented the spread of fire on the outside of the building. If you watch the video of the Grenfell Tower fire (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/video/2017/jun/14/grenfell-tower-blaze-video-explainer) it appears that fire spread within the floors involved, indicating that fire barriers were not preventing fire-spread from units to other parts of the floor. Had a sprinkler system been in place, the spread of fire within the floors themselves may have been prevented. Contrary to what we see in the movies, sprinkler systems are not designed for simultaneous discharge from all sprinkler heads at once. With that many floors involved in the fire, water pressure would likely have reduced sprinkler discharge to a trickle.” (https://www.buildingcci.com/partners)
Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding, not the absence of sprinklers.
Incidentally for most of May residents in one of our 8-storey block were without water for washing or bathroom use owing to a pump failure.
OTHER TOWER BLOCK FIRES
The Council, as part of its attempts to justify imposing sprinklers on residents against their will, has pointed to other fires in tower blocks as evidence that Grenfell was not a one-off. However, the reports of these fires, notably those at Lakanal House in Southwark in 2009 and at Shepherd Court in Hammersmith & Fulham in 2016, reveal a common thread.
The Lakanal House fire occurred in a tower block in Camberwell on 3rd July 2009. Six people died and at least were 20 injured when a fire broke out in one of the flats and quickly spread (https://www.designingbuildings.co.uk/wiki/Lakanal_House_fire). The 14-storey block contains 98 flats and reaches a height of 42 metres. The inquest focused on the cladding panels that had been fitted as part of a refurbishment in 2006/07, which were found to offer less fire resistance than the panels they replaced. “The fire spread unexpectedly fast, both laterally and vertically, trapping people in their homes, with the exterior cladding panels burning through in just four and a half minutes”. According to the jury ‘This was due to a serious failure on the part of Southwark Council’s building design services, its contractors and its sub-contractors’. In 2017 Southwark Council pleaded guilty to four charges concerning breaches to safety regulations and was fined £270,000 plus £300,000 costs.
Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding.
A fire in Shepherd’s Court, by Shepherd’s Bush Green, on 19th August 2016 spread over five floors of the 18-storey block, though fortunately there were no deaths or serious injuries. As is usually the case officialdom tried to prevent information coming out (it is not just Wandsworth Council that tries to do this!) but Inside Housing magazine launched a Freedom of Information request against the London Fire Brigade, which was forced to admit that the external insulation panels which were attached below the windows on Shepherd’s Court were the prime cause of the spread of the fire. (https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/insight/insight/a-stark-warning-the-shepherds-bush-tower-block-fire-50566.) The panels were made of a 1mm stainless steel sheet mounted on blue foam plastic and a plywood board, the edges enclosed by plastic foil. When first exposed to flame nothing happened to the steel but if exposure continued the blue foam underneath would begin to melt, with serious consequences. LFB’s report on the panels found the following:
Conclusion – the real problem was the cladding.
THE STATUS OF ‘STAY PUT’ ADVICE
As long as a fire is guaranteed to be retained within the flat in which it started – as we have seen many times in our unclad (and even clad) high rise blocks – the ‘stay put’ advice made a lot of sense. It prevents the inevitable injuries caused by trips, falls and possibly trampling as people panic to get out and it leaves the stairwells free for the emergency services to get to the bed of the fire as quickly as possible. The question though is how realistic is it to imagine that residents will look at it that way after Grenfell and the failure of the Fire Brigade to reverse that advice when it was clear, very early after the fire broke out, that it spreading and that the advice needed to be abandoned in order to get as many people out as quickly as possible.
One question then is whether it would make it easier and safer for large numbers of people to leave a large block in a short period of time if the landings and stairwells were wet from water, either directly from sprinklers or from water carried out of the flats on people’s shoes or feet. There does not seem to be much research available on this.
SPRINKLERS IN ACTION
“Authorities say a guest broke a fire sprinkler, causing hundreds of people to be evacuated and thousands of dollars in damage at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in Essington, Delaware County (near Philadelphia airport). It happened around 5am on Sunday April 27 (2014). The hotel evacuated their 600 guests. Hotel staff had to work overtime to clean up the 50 rooms that sustained thousands of dollars in water damage. Several teams from the weekend’s Penn Relays were staying there.” (https://quickstoptool.com/blog/50-rooms-destroyed-single-fire-sprinkler-accident/) One guest reported the incident as follows: “My daughter and I stayed at the Wyndham for one night during a college visit in Philly. In the early morning, the fire alarm went off. First of all, we weren’t even sure it was the fire alarm – thought it was just a strange noise. We eventually left the room with most of our stuff. There were NO announcements or leadership at all. The front desk simply told people there was a malfunction with the sprinkler system. After waiting about a half hour, I went back up to get the rest of my stuff. The wing I was in was horribly damaged by water.” See https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g52610-d1090927-r203724363-Wyndham_Garden_Philadelphia_Airport-Essington_Pennsylvania.html
Councillor (Independent), West Hill Ward
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