Lakanal House

Revisiting the lessons of the tower block tragedy

Marketing Copywriter, Fireco

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Kathy Manson is Marketing Copywriter at Fireco, which makes simple and trusted solutions for your difficult fire safety problems.
April 4, 2017

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Photo: Nicholas Bailey/REX/Shutterstock (1543789b). Fire damage at Lakanal House block of flats Various – Jul 2009

Southwark Council has been fined £570,000 for a 2009 tower block fire in which six people were killed.

The London Fire Brigade brought the prosecution against the council as Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London had a number of structural and safety issues which breached fire regulations.

During the investigation into the cause of the Lakanal House fire, it was revealed that 999 operators had told residents to stay in their flats. This meant that some residents were trapped when the fire spread more rapidly than anticipated.

Emergency service operators were rightly following the ‘stay put’ procedure for tower blocks which has been in place since the 1990s.

When dealing with emergency situations, 999 operators offer advice based on the assumption that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place – for example that fire doors would be closed and not wedged open and that fire-resistant materials would be incorporated into the building’s walls and ceilings. These measures prevent flames and smoke from spreading.

Inadequate compartmentation measures

However, this was not the case at Lakanal House. There were inadequate compartmentation measures in place including an absence of strips or seals on doors in the buildings, a lack of cavity barriers in the ceilings and inadequate fire protection to the timber stairs in the common corridor.

At the inquest, Peter Holland, Chief Fire and Rescue advisor for the Communities and Local Government department, stated that correct compartmentation is vital for the ‘stay put’ policy in tower blocks to be safe. This would have kept the fire contained for one hour while the emergency services dealt with the situation.

There was no clear guidance for operators on the safest action for residents to take

As the correct measures were not in place in Lakanal House, the fire spread at an alarmingly fast rate.

Due to the unprecedented nature of the situation, there was no clear guidance for operators on what was the safest action to take for residents of Lakanal House. According to Peter Holland, this would have been for residents to be told to evacuate if they felt they were in jeopardy.

Dan Daly, London Fire Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe.”

It is essential that risk assessments are carried out to make sure that buildings have the correct fire safety measures in place. Closed fire doors and other fire-resistant structures are vital to prevent the spread of fire in a building, so the fire can be contained and residents can stay safe or evacuate. When these regulations are breached, lives are at risk.

In 2015 we asked a number of fire-safety experts for their prescriptions on preventing another, similar tragedy.

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[…] Southwark Council has been fined £570,000 for a 2009 tower block fire in which six people were killed. (IFSEC Global) […]