Adam Bannister

Editor, IFSEC Global

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Adam Bannister is editor of IFSEC Global. A former managing editor at Dynamis Online Media Group, he has been at the helm of the UK's leading fire and security publication since 2014.
June 14, 2017

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Grenfell tower fire

London fire: Community group warned that “catastrophic event” was likely

A number of fatalities have been reported after fire tore through a 24-storey London tower block in the early hours of the morning.

Forty fire engines and 200 firefighters battled the blaze at Grenfell Tower, which comprises 120 flats, in Latimer Road, White City in West London.

Eyewitnesses have described harrowing scenes where people trapped inside the burning building screamed for their children to be saved. In one instance a baby was caught by a member of the public having been dropped from the 10th floor.

Although the number of fatalities has not been confirmed it looks likely that this morning’s fire will comfortably surpass the 2009 Lakanal House blaze, which claimed the lives of six people and injured 20, as London’s worst tower block fire in modern times.

The fire at the 14-storey Lakanal House has cast a long shadow over UK fire safety. In March, Southwark council was fined £570,000 after accepting it had flouted several fire safety regulations. All local authorities were ordered to review fire safety measures at high-rise blocks in the wake of the tragedy.

Last year we reported on a spate of high-rise fires in Dubai, but there were no fatalities in each instance. Despite an internationally favourable fire safety record, the UK clearly has no reason for complacency.

Built in 1974, Grenfell Tower recently completed a two-year £10m refurbishment. Improvements included new exterior cladding. The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) manages the tower on behalf of the council.

In a chillingly prescient blog published in November 2016, The Greenfell Action Group, appeared to predict that tragedy was all but inevitable. Excoriating the KCTMO for neglecting its fire-safety obligations it wrote:

“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.

“We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large-scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.

“Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.

“We believe that the KCTMO have ensured their ongoing survival by the use of proxy votes at their Annual General Meeting that see them returned with a mandate of 98% in favour of the continuation of their inept and highly dangerous management of our homes. It is no coincidence that the 98% is the same figure that is returned by the infamous Kim Jong-un of North Korea who claims mass popularity while reputedly enslaving the general population and starving the majority of his people to death.”

Read the rest of this blog post here.

In a statement, the Association for Specialist Fire Protection (ASFP) said: “The incident highlights a number of concerns regarding fire safety in the built environment and demonstrates how vigilant we must all be when designing, supplying and installing fire protection in buildings.

“Compartmentation and structural fire protection play a vital role in protecting escape routes and slowing the spread of fire and smoke. But there can be tragic consequences which may ensue if such systems are not adequately specified, installed and maintained; or are bypassed by rapid fire spread outside the building as may have happened at Grenfell House.

“Working with stakeholders from across the entire construction industry, the ASFP has been leading an initiative to ensure that fire protection is considered throughout the life of a building from design, through construction and fit-out to the building once in occupation.

“The ASFP is developing an overarching Construction Strategy to encourage collaborative working across the whole design and build process to improve the quality of installed fire protection within the built environment. Key to this is introducing fire protection into the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Plan of Works to ensure that there is a detailed specification for fire protection in initial building designs, and throughout the construction process. This aims to ensure that fire protection measures are correctly designed, specified, installed and inspected to make buildings safer for everyone.”

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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