Strong PR attempt to mislead the UK public about the causes of the Grenfell Tower Fire.

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Have not written about the terrible Grenfell Fire since early August 2017, as I spent a month before that, looking at everything I could about the fire engineering causes behind the “rapid fire spread” in the cladding (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ).

The media today reported that the Police are investigating contractors for criminal negligence. Concerned that since the fire in June there has been a strong PR attempt to mislead the UK public about the causes of the fire. In the media the blame has been pinned on the flammability of the rainscreen and insulation (that make up the cladding system). This was reinforced in July by government agency BRE testing of the cladding materials in a perfectly installed setup, in a so called “full scale” BS 8414-1 test. This test showed the materials did not meet the fire compartmentation regulations.

The impression has been given that the “rapid fire spread” in the cladding during the Grenfell Tower Fire was entirely due to the cladding materials used. There is an important element that has been ignored in the media. This is cavity fire breaks, or more technically ventilated cavity fire barriers.

The previous article from August (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ) describes in detail that none of the tests on the cladding materials explains the “rapid spread of the fire”. They do explain how a serious fire would have occurred, that would have spread to some adjoining flats, but do not explain how the whole 22 floor tower block was engulfed in flames in around 20 minutes.

This rapid fire spread requires a wind tunnel effect in the cavity behind the rainscreen and the insulation. This requires that a large percentage of the air gaps in the cladding cavity at the floor levels, were not blocked by correctly installed cavity fire barriers. This involves botched installation, botched cladding design and manufacture, and botched inspection. There is a strong case for an investigation into negligence for profit, that lead to the horrific deaths and injuries at Grenfell Tower.

Some discussion has appeared in the construction industry press about cavity fire barriers and Grenfell. Selected building experts have been suggesting fire barriers are difficult to install, and may not work in all situations. The apparent intention is to undermine the importance of cavity barriers.

There was a useful article in September 2017 “Inside Housing” Grenfell: what did the cladding tests show?  It includes this paragraph:

“To provide proper insulation, installers leave a cavity between the panels [rainscreen] and the foam [insulation], and it is in this void that fire safety issues can arise. In order to preserve the cavity but also prevent it from becoming a deadly chimney, fire breaks are generally installed at regular intervals. These do not block the cavity entirely, but are designed to expand when they detect fire and fill the gap [damp insulation is less effective].

Arnold Tarling, a fire safety expert and chartered surveyor at Hindwoods, has little faith in this idea. ‘How,’ he questions, ‘do you make sure that this continues across every vertical member which is holding the cladding on? The external cladding’s got to stick to something, and so very often you have vertical sections of aluminium bonded to the concrete. You have your barriers coming out from there. How do you fill in all those cavity bits and pieces – the aluminium tubes themselves? How do you fill in the cavity gaps? It becomes very complicated.’ ”

This gets to the heart of the Grenfell rapid fire spread. The design, construction and installation of the cladding was done of the cheap. Looking at limited information on the cladding installation it is highly possible that over 50% of the cavity gaps where the Grenfell Tower columns intersected with floor levels was left completely unprotected (See Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno ).

It is necessary that there is a fight red in tooth and claw to ensure justice for the victims of this fire. Then secondly comes ensuring it does not happen again, and that the UK construction industry is properly regulated (currently building regulations are becoming a joke, which impacts on wider government regulatory climate). Finding suitably qualified fire safety experts to go against the ire of the powerful UK Construction Industry Lobby and its resources will be a major problem.

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Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno

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Grenfell Everything I Have Learned On The Causes Behind The Inferno

[posted by Lara Keller 5/8/2017]

Grenfell Tower fire in the early hours of the 14 June 2017, spread with incredible speed spreading from the 4th to the top 24th floor in 20 minutes. Over 80 men, women and children has been killed by toxic fumes and heat, and their remains cremated. It really is not too strong to describe this as the most horrific fire in the UK since the Second World War. To keep any respect for democracy and government regulation in the UK, the residents of Grenfell Tower need to get full justice, and there needs to be urgent action to make residential housing (social, student or private) safe in the UK. On a more personal level I was shocked by the death of Mohammed al-Haj Ali a young civil engineer would had been forced to flee the malevolent state of Assad’s Syria, only to become a victim of the indifferent UK state. It is a bitter irony that indifference does not respect borders.

The thing that marks this Tower Block fire out from previous ones is the very rapid speed of the fire spread, and the high number of deaths and injuries. The main issue in getting justice is understanding the “rapid fire spread”. In this article I ignore the cause of the kitchen flat fire and sprinklers. I ignore even the response of the fire services, and the quality of the escape routes and fire advice. The reason is that the authorities will argue if Grenfell had been a normal fire these systems would have worked. I will also ignore the disgraceful treatment of the residents before and after the fire by the super wealthy penny pinching social cleansing Kensington and Chelsea Council. This is an important issue, but who is actually directly responsible for the crime of refurbishing Grenfell Tower to make it a death trap needs to be established, and this means looking deeply at the cause.

In the weeks following the fire, there were several fire engineering experts giving concrete informed opinions on the fire in the UK media. This from the Daily Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/24/grenfells-unusual-design-led-blaze-spread-say-investigators/   it quotes a “well places source” putting focus on voids in the cavity behind the rainscreen (termed “cladding” by media) on the Tower Blocks columns (some architects term these “fins”).

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Early video of the fire appeared on BBC Newsnight, showing the two columns near the 4th floor (close to the North-East corner) flat where the flat started, on fire from the 4th to the 24th floor, the entire height of the building is in flames in 20 minutes.

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So it seemed from several sources that fire stopping in the cladding cavity on the columns was the key area to look at. The media at this time were still just reporting that the Reynobond PE rainscreen used, had a flammable Polyethylene core, and this was the main cause of the rapid fire spread.

Cladding is fitted on to a 1970s Tower Block like Grenell Tower, to bring the insulation up to modern standards, stop the degrading of the concrete walls by weather, stop damp getting into flats and to improve the outside appearance. It is fitted as a “cladding” system like this:

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The word Cladding is often used to refer to all the layers, with the outer one being called Rainscreen. There was a standard 50mm cavity gap between the Rainscreen and the Insulation at Grenfell. This allows the insulation to stay dry, as it is only effective if dry. The problem is that fire can get into the cavity gap and spread unseen between floors.

To stop this and to still allow ventilation, at each floor level a complete line of Ventilated Cavity Fire Barriers is installed, which goes from the Concrete Wall to the Rainscreen. Steel brackets hold it firmly in place. A 25mm air gap is left between the Cavity Barrier and the Rainscreen. The Cavity Barrier contains a layer treated with an Intumescent material, that expands when exposed to heat. So when the cavity reaches typically 180 C, the line of Cavity fire Barriers should have fully expanded to close the 25mm air gap left in the cavity. Each floor level section of cavity in the cladding is then sealed from the floor above and below.

There are lots of companies who make Ventilated Cavity Fire Barriers, and I do not know who makes the best ones. Here is an informative piece from a company called Tenmat  http://www.tenmat.com/passive-fire-protection/ventilated-fire-barriers :

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I do not have had connection to people who make any of these cladding products, my only concern is that Grenfell Residents get full justice, which means looking into the construction details and so trying to get at the root cause of the rapid fire spread.

The Chimney Effect mentioned refers to how vertical cavities without fire barriers, can act like chimneys, which can create very powerful upward drafts. Obviously this effects how semi combustible cladding products like insulation burn. Here is a graph showing the “chimney effect”. It’s force is driven by the height of the chimney and the temperature of the fire at the bottom of it. The updrafts are then compared to the pressure you would feel from outside wind speeds on the Beaufort scale. At Grenfell the distance from the 4th floor flat to the top flat is around 45m.

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To know how semi combustible products used on Grenfell Tower would react to a “chimney effect” in a 45m cavity, requires looking at the fire behavior of these materials. At this time at the end of June the BRE (UK Building Research Establishment) were testing small samples of materials cut from Grenfell and other Tower Blocks. The Gurdian newspaer reported that these tests were less than transparent and not to standard procedures: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/26/tower-block-cladding-tests-after-grenfell-fire-lack-transparency-say-experts . It was being reported that the samples of rainscreen and insulation from Grenfell both failed these fire tests: [Det Supt] McCormack said: “Preliminary tests show the insulation samples collected from Grenfell Tower combusted soon after the tests started. The initial test on the cladding tiles also failed the safety tests.” (https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/23/grenfell-tower-fire-police-considering-manslaughter-charges).

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I looked at previous fire tests for the the Rainscreen (Reynbond 55 PE) and the Insulation (Celotex rs5000). According to various brochures for these materials they are fire rated in the UK as Class 0. This translates to Euroclass B as the table below shows:

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Euroclass ratings use the Single Burning Item (SBI) Test, which uses a 70W Propane Burner to heat a sample of the material in a corner room test for 20 minutes. A special high tech room is used where the heat produced and combustion products  are analyzed, to determine how much energy the sample has released and what gases, smoke and droplets.

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Euroclass B means the heat energy produced by the burning sample in 10 minutes is less than or equal to 7.5 MJ  (THR600s <= 7.5 MJ). The propane burner supplies 18 MJ to the sample over 10 minutes, and the sample produces 7.5 MJ or less. Do not have the exact THR600s for the Insulation Celotex rs5000. This PIR type foam, is a modified rigid thermoset type of polyurethane, that consists of rings of molecules strongly cross linked, as opposed to thermoplastics formed of loosely bound chains of molecules.  When heated with a blow torch PIR burns, forming a char layer, but goes out when the torch is removed.

There is a test for the Reynobond 55 PE panels (CSTB Report No. RA11-0032 9/2/2011) that gives THR600s as 2.2 MJ.  These panels consist of two sheets of 0.5 mm Aluminum (the 55 refers to this) bonded to a polyurethane core (with additives). Basically the Aluminum prevents very much of the core being exposed to oxygen, where heat can be applied to it to make it burn. So is you supply 18 MJ of heat with a propane burner to a sample of  Reynobond 55 PE panels, you will only generate 2.2MJ of heat from areas of the panels that have been burning. This fire is therefore not self sustaining.

It is difficult to know what tests and standards the BRE (UK Building Research Establishment) were using when they did their single item burning tests on samples of rainscreen and insulation. The London Metropolitan Police did say in a press conference the Rainscreen was harder to burn than the Insulation. The media reporting about the Rainscreen had given the impression that if a corner of it was lite with a burner the whole cladded building facade would go up in flames. The reporting of these first small scale  BRE tests was very limited , and tended to reinforce this impression that “cladding materials only” was the reason for the rapid fire spread.

When an item burns around 30% of the heat energy radiates outwards as infrared waves, and 70% moves upwards as hot air and smoke in a plume. An ideal plume grows in diameter 18% for every unit length gain in height. So with a burning vertical surface a great deal of the heat energy is moving away from the surface. If the burning surface is trapped in a chimney cavity, then clearly most of the heat energy is directed back towards the burning surface, as it moves up with the updraft. In addition the strong updraft pulls more oxygen towards the burning surface, and so allows more rapid combustion. A growing positive feed loop develops.

Taking the case of the PIR Insulation Celotext rs5000 used at Grenfell. A vertical wall of this material is going to burn more fiercely if trapped in a cavity behind rainscreen. Much more of the heat energy from an area of burning insulation is going to directed back to the area of insulation above it, rather than being lost to the open air. As PIR insulation burns it forms a solid char layer. Rather than the hot plastic foam breaking up into a gas that more easily mixes with air. A strong updraft forces oxygen into the char layer and so helps it burn. The same idea applies to the uses of the bellows in a blacksmith’s charcoal forge.

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So in the scenario above a section of vertical semi-combustible cladding (rainscreen, cavity, insulation) is subject to an intense fire in an iron crib at the bottom:

On the Left the rainscreen near the crib fire burns, and cannot enter the cavity because cavity fire barriers have closed. The insulation nearest the crib fire burns most intensely, but much of the resulting heat energy is lost to the open air. The sections of insulation above this burn less intensely as the amount of supplied heat diminishes. This is more like the fire behavior of PIR insulation in a room corner “single item burning” test.

On the Right there is the same set up, but with no (effective) cavity fire barriers. Fire from the crib enters the cavity and is drawn up like a chimney. A strong updraft and the more efficient movement of heat energy up the surface of the burning insulation means the whole surface can burn move fierce and rapidly. This is very different fire behavior than the room corner “single burning item” test. It also means that it needs a smaller total quantity of combustible material to create a serious fire within a cavity. It has been reported that in the rainscreen and the insulation there was the calorific equivalent of 15 tonnes of combustible material on the outside of Grenfell Tower.

Also the Rainscreen would burn differently in the two scenarios above:

On the Left the Rainscreen will only burn to a certain height and then stop. The single item burning tests show it needs external supplied heat to burn, and this falls rapidly with distance from the crib fire. The intensity of the Insulation burning is falling off with height, as heat is lost, and so cannot supply heat to the Rainscreen.

On the Right the Rainscreen burns due to the crib fire in the same way, but the fire moves up the cavity like a chimney. The insulation burns fiercely, and the trapped heat also heats the Rainscreen. The polyethylene core softens and the bond with the outer aluminum sheets weakens. This means when it is ignites it will burn much more fiercely, than in the corner of the room “single item burning” test.

It seems highly probable that the sudden bursting into flames of sections of Reynobond PE Rainscreen on the columns at the Grenfell Tower did not occur when the Rainscreen was cold, but when an existing fire behind the Rainscreen in the Cladding Cavity had preheated the Rainscreen to a critical temperature. This is illustrated here:

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There was an intense flat fire at Taplow Tower in Camden London in 2012 that broke through a window, where the cladding consisted of  Reynobond PE Rainscreen and Mineral Wool insulation. The flat was gutted and put out by the fire brigade from the inside. The external cladding only burned up to the next floor level.

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This shows that the rainscreen Reynobond PE does not burn uncontrollably if subjected to an intense fire source. Assume the cavity fire barriers worked at Taplow Tower and the fire was prevented from entering or going far into the cladding cavity.

By this time the BRE were carrying out a “full scale” test on the combination of cladding materials used at Grenfell Tower using a BS 8414 set up, that is used to determine if external building envelope systems (ie cladding) will contain a fire within a compartment (ie flat) for 15 minutes. It is assumed that all the components of the cladding system are installed correctly, including rainscreen, cavity fire barriers and insulation. To pass the test, the internal thermocouples in the cavity and in the insulation on level 2 (models next floor up), must not reach 600 C for 30 seconds in the 15 minutes after the crib fire (peak output 3MW, approx 250Kg of dry pine) starts.

The BS 8414 test on the Grenfell cladding materials was reported by the media as an “absolute fail”. This is illustrated below:

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The intense crib fire burned away a section of the Reynobond PE Rainscreen nearest the source. Flames were observed reaching up to the top of the test rig. The test was finished after just 7 minutes. The actual results looked like this:

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This BRE BS 8414 test does not explain why 20 floors of cladding at Grenfell Tower was on fire in the first 21 minutes. This test proves that a powerful large dry pine crib wood fire can burn a large hole in Reynobond PE Rainscreen. It does not show that under normal fire conditions that the Rainscreen will burn without a large external heat supply. Imagine if the BRE had been able to build a 20 floor test rig, the results would look like this:

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If the BRE had built a 20 floor tall test rig, then after 30 minutes the crib fire would use up all the wood fuel, and the damage to the rainscreen and insulation would only extend a few floors. This is shown in the middle drawing in the graphic above.

The top drawing shows how the actual BRE test results would have looked on this enormous test rig.

The bottom drawing, shows what actually happened at Grenfell Tower, with the fire racing up 20 floors in 21 minutes. This could only happen, from all the information I and others have seen, if the cavity fire barriers were ineffective, and the fire raced up a 45m chimney behind the rainscreen.

There is some evidence that there were gaps in the horizontal cavity fire barriers under the rainscreen at Grenfell Tower. This uses technical planning drawings submitted to the local council and high resolution photographs of the exposed cladding when the refurbishment was finished. This picture below shows gaps in the cladding ventilated cavity fire barrier line on a Grenfell Tower column:

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The rainscreen panels are hung on the small rods bolted across the vertical black aluminum channels, that cut through the horizontal cavity fire barrier line. There is no evidence of fire stopping in these aluminum channels. Also almost all of the height of the columns has a ribbed and grooved surface in the concrete. There is no evidence that these ribs and grooves were firestopped.

The picture below shows cladding under a window in a horizontal cladding section between the columns:

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Gaps have been cut in the horizontal cavity fire barrier line to take the vertical aluminum channels.

I then transposed these air gaps onto a technical drawing of a Grenfell column cross section :

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You can see the ribs and grooves in this concrete column cross section. These air gaps are shown in yellow, and assume to be unprotected. Using the cladding photographs above there are yellow air gaps around the aluminum channels that support the rainscreen panels, these are assumed to be unprotected. Also shown in blue is the 25 mm protected air gap between the ventilated cavity  fire barrier and the rainscreen, which will be closed when the barriers expand with heat (fully closed at 180 C).

The image was created as accurately as possible using a detailed technical drawing to scale. A graphics program scanned the image for yellow and blue pixels. Scaling this up to reality, an air gap 250 cm squared was protected by cavity fire barrier, while an air gap of 270 cm squared was unprotected, using the assumptions given. If this situation was repeated on other Grenfell cladded columns, then the cavity fire barriers would be essentially useless, as fire bypassed them to flow through unprotected air gaps.

There also appears to be no vertical firestopping between the vertical cladded columns and the horizontal cladded sections around the flats’ windows, that should have stopped the fire moving sideways from the columns.  It has also been reported that air gaps were left around the flats’ windows, allowing smoke and fire easy access to enter flats ( https://www.channel4.com/news/grenfell-new-revelations-did-window-renovations-contribute-to-spread-of-fire ).

Internal firestopping at Grenfell Tower needs to be examined as closely as external firestopping. The refurbishment involved removing and installing new pipes in the vertical service risers, that run vertically the height of the building through the flats. An application was made to remove the internal vertical firestopping between flats, and it is not known if this was effectively replaced after the refurbishment ( http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/fire-safeguards-in-grenfell-were-temporarily-removed-during-refurbishment/7020464.article ).

The lift lobbies and the protected stairwell quickly filled up with smoke, preventing many people from escaping. The last resident to escape reported being forced by smoke in his flat into launching himself into the thick smoke outside his flat, and down the stairwell. He thought he was treading on lots of fire hoses, but they turned out to be dead people who had collapsed and died on the stairwell from toxic smoke. The doors of the flats and the doors to the stairwell should have been able to contain fire and smoke for 60 minutes. There should have been a system to extract smoke from the lobbies and the stairwell. None of this happened. Defective fire stopping from fire doors is a common and very serious problem in social housing tower blocks in London ( https://www.ifsecglobal.com/london-tower-block-fire-councils-social-landlords-ignored-warnings-years ). The refurbishment was completed in 2016, and these new fire doors should have all been installed to the correct standard. Residents of Grenfell Tower were ignored when they complained about botched internal refurbishment of their flats, was this lack of care extended to fire doors?

In March 2015 Grenfell residents formed an action committee, and started refusing allowing Rydon contractors access to their flats, due to the unprofessional standard of the work being done ( https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2015/03/19/who-you-gonna-call-rydonbusters/ ).

A similar refurbishment project in 2014 also carried out by Rydon at the North Myatts Field Estate in Lambeth in London resulted in a whistle blower inside Rydon writing to the residents association ( https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jul/21/the-real-cost-of-regeneration-social-housing-private-developers-pfi ):

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This is about another project by the same company, but does explicitly mention the issue of firestopping, fire assessments, emergency lighting and smoke alarms. It suggests a chronic failure of respect for health and safety regulations by Rydon management and its sub contractors.

Currently the BRE are doing full scale tests on combinations of rainscreen and insulation. Without effective fire stopping (cavity fire barriers) no combination is safe for use in high rise residential or office buildings. Unprotected cavities in cladding provide a route for fire to travel between compartments (ie flats).

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Only Limited Combustibility Rainscreen (ie Fibre Cement Panels) and Mineral Wool Insualtion should be allowed on high rise buildings. Other combinations are much more dependent on adequate fire stopping. This is too much core fire safety to hang on correctly installed fire stopping, which is often hidden, not inspected and botched by cowboy  contractors. These other cladding combinations need to be stripped out and replaced. The choice of cladding materials allowed by building regulation needs to reflect the reality of the lack of respect for UK government regulation among many in the construction Industry ( https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/15/long-builder-chain-for-grenfell-a-safety-and-accountability-issue ).

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The Grenfell Tower would have been turned into an absolute fire death trap, if firestopping was systematically botched. This central issue must be forcefully pursued by fire engineers reporting to the public inquiry. However this seems very unlikely if construction industry friendly experts are appointed by the inquiry. This is how the Rapid and Deadly Spread of the Grenfell Tower Fire could have happened:

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Lastly on the legal side, the UK 1972 Defective Premises Act states that builders have a duty of care to residents of the buildings they build or alter ( http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1972/35  ). The Building Regulations 2010 Act in Schedule 1 sets out the requirement for buildings to adequately resist internal and external fire spread ( http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2010/2214/schedule/1/made ). The UK government has given guidance on how this can be achieved in Approved Document B ( https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/fire-safety-approved-document-b ). There is also the UK Building Control Alliance guidance on the “Use of Combustible Cladding Materials on Residential Buildings” ( http://theriveroflife.com/wp-content/plugins/BCA-Technical-Guidance-Note-18.pdf ), which gives this very relevant advice:

“Within the confines of a cavity, the flame will also elongate up to ten times its length as it searches for oxygen. Hence, the need for robust cavity barriers, restricted combustibility of key components and the use of materials with a low spread of flame rating is necessary, particularly given the delamination and spalling [breaking into fragments] nature of some of the components when heated”

It should be possible to pursue those responsible for the Grenfell Tower Fire disaster for corporate manslaughter (senior managers whose policies led to death and injury, penalty=fines) and gross negligence manslaughter (against individuals whose actions resulted in a failure of duty of care leading to death and injury, penalty=imprisonment). What is really needed is more whistleblowers. Now is your time.

Key Points to Creating Justice for Victims of Grenfell Tower Fire Slaughter.

 Key Points to Creating Justice for Victims of Grenfell Tower Fire Slaughter:

[Posted by Lara Keller 22/6/17]

1. Tower blocks cannot be rapidly engulfed by fire, without huge lack of fire cavity breaks. Alu-PE panels secondary issue to this.

2. Huge number missing hidden fire cavity breaks, means criminal gross negligence manslaughter by number of individuals.

3. This requires a major focused aggressive fast moving police investigation. Evidence secured and people interviewed and arrests made.

4. Outcome of investigation probably be used as major embarrassment to UK Conservative Government and RBKC Council, this is a risk to senior police officers careers.

5. Justice for Grenfell victims therefore requires brave influential champions, supported by demonstrations of constructive public anger.

Supporting sources:
See:

  1. “If regulations were followed, the Grenfell Tower inferno should have been impossible.” 14/6/17 Geoff Wilkinson, building inspector, UK Daily Telegraph.  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/14/regulations-followed-grenfell-tower-inferno-should-have-impossible/  to get accessible copy see https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/if-regulations-were-followed-the-grenfell-tower-inferno-should-have-been-impossible/
    Highlighted Key Paragraph = “Something similar happened in Irvine [Irvine, North Ayrshire, Scotland] in 1999, after which new regulations were put out which limited the types of cladding which could be used. In particular, they mandated barriers at various points in the cavity, blocking off the ‘chimney’ on all sides. And in 2014 Grenfell’s landlords decided to install exactly this kind of cladding in order to ‘improve its appearance’ when viewed from the luxury flats nearby. The Guardian has reported that some panels used in modern cladding are only fire-proofed on the surface, behind which is up to 30cm of highly flammable polyurethane. If true, that is a major non-conformance with regulations. But even if not, were the proper firebreaks put in place behind the panels?
  2. UK Building Research Establishment (BRE) presentation on “The Fire Performance of Building Envelopes”, June 2016 https://www.ifsecglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/The-Fire-Performance-of-Building-Envelopes-by-Steven-Howard-BRE-Global.pdf Highlighted Key Slide =
    External Walls over 18m in Height. A summary of [guidance from Approved Document B, 2007] Volume 2 Section 12:
    * External surfaces comply with Diagram 40 ‘Euroclasses’. Applicable to all Buildings. Additional recommendations for buildings with a storey over 18m: All insulation and filler materials should be A2-s3,d2 or better. All cavity barriers and fire stopping guidance needs to be followed.
    OR
    * Test the complete system to BS 8414.
    Note = Also gives introduction to fire spread in cladding systems, and useful list of previous incidents.
  3. “Manslaughter charges under consideration after Grenfell Tower disaster.” 18/6/17 See (is accessible):  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/06/18/prosecutors-considering-manslaughter-charges-grenfell-tower/  Extract= “He [Sir Keir Starmer, Labour Shadow Brexit Minister]said they would be looking at whether anyone could be charged with manslaughter following a litany of failings that led to the disaster – in which at least at least 58 people are now feared to have been killed.”
  4. “Grenfell renovation proposed temporary removal of fire protections.” 16/6/17 https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/fire-safeguards-in-grenfell-were-temporarily-removed-during-refurbishment/7020464.article to get accessible copy see: https://partnershipblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-renovation-proposed-temporary-removal-of-fire-protections/ Key Extract = “To install the new pipes, the ‘fire stopping’ – systems used to seal openings and joints to prevent the spread of fire – would have had to be partially removed, under the ‘preferred option’ listed in a report from 2012 by engineers Max Fordham. The document said this option was adopted.” [Key Question=Were the fire cavity breaks replaced around the 6 x vertical service risers in Grenfell Tower, creating internal chimneys for inter-flat fire spread?]
  5. “Gross negligence manslaughter” 14/8/13 https://app.croneri.co.uk/feature-articles/gross-negligence-manslaughter Useful guide to offenses of gross negligence manslaughter compared to corporate manslaughter.
    Key passages = “The police investigate suspected cases of manslaughter. Prosecution decisions are made by the Crown Prosecution Service in England and Wales, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service in Scotland and the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland. The Health and Safety Executive is involved through a joint approach to work-related deaths between all the relevant regulatory authorities in line with the principles of the Work-related Deaths Protocol.”
    “The maximum penalty for those convicted of gross negligence manslaughter is life imprisonment. The factors which may be involved in deciding the length of any prison term include whether:
    * multiple deaths were involved,
    * the case involved a prolonged and dangerous course of conduct,
    * there was an awareness of a significant risk of death or really serious injury,
    * warnings had been ignored,
    * the defendant was pursuing a course of conduct for financial gain.” [Note = to see “duty of care” requirement between construction professionals and tenants, see Defective Premises Act 1972 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1972/35/pdfs/ukpga_19720035_en.pdf ]
     

If regulations were followed, the Grenfell Tower inferno should have been impossible.

If regulations were followed, the Grenfell Tower inferno should have been impossible.

[June 15th, 2017 UK Daily Telegraph, by Geoff Wilkinson]

[Posted by Lara Keller 19/6/17]

If regulations were followed, the Grenfell Tower inferno should have been impossible

I am a building inspector and fire engineer with 30 years’ experience. I’ve overseen numerous projects across London, including new builds and refurbishments, making sure buildings comply with the proper regulations, and post-occupation fire risk assessments. Given my experience, I was shocked by the blaze which engulfed Grenfell Tower in the early hours of Wednesday morning.

At this point in time it’s very hard to tell precisely what went wrong. We don’t know where the fire started and we don’t know how it spread. What we can say for sure is how the building should have performed – and that it definitely did not perform that way. If regulations were followed, what happened at Grenfell Tower should never have been possible, and there are very big question which need to be answered. There are already suggestions that proper planning procedures were not followed.

Normally, British fire regulations assume that fires will start in one location only – and normally, this is completely reasonable. In a big tower block like Grenfell, each individual flat is a fire-tight box from which flames should not be able to escape, and a fire which starts in one tends to stay in it. That is why residents are usually advised to stay within their own rooms and wait for rescue. The fire service should arrive within ten minutes, ascend the building, and tackle the fire where it burns, while other residents sit quite happily in place.

This is also why we shouldn’t be disturbed by reports from Grenfell that there was no common alarm system installed. Most residential blocks don’t have common alarms, because they could trigger a mass panic in which everyone tries to evacuate via the same stairwell which the fire service are using to reach the fire. Unlike in a hotel, there are no fire trained fire wardens to safely direct such an evacuation. In the event that a fire grows too large, firefighters might sometimes decide to evacuate the floor immediately above. Otherwise, it’s better everyone stays where they are. That policy has worked several hundred times over the past few years without a problem.

What happened at Grenfell was something else entirely. Firefighters were on site six minutes after being called, which is within expectations. But it is extremely unusual for the fire to spread this far and with this speed and ferocity. Within half an hour or so it had travelled way beyond the first flat, making it very difficult for the fire services to control it. Even more worryingly, survivors have reported that stairwells and lobbies were choked with smoke, which should never happen: there are supposed to be means of clearing smoke from such areas. In those circumstances, “stay and hide” becomes obsolete.

And yet to me the fire spread still had a horrifying familiarity. This has happened before, and – if we are not careful – it may happen again.

In Knowsley Heights in Manchester in 1991, fire spread in a way no one had predicted via the decorative cladding on the outside of the building. These plastic or metal panels are installed to protect a building from weather or improve its appearance, but between them and the wall there is a cavity where rain can run down. In the event of a fire this acts like a chimney, drawing the hot air up through itself and making the flames burn brighter. In this way fire travelled all the way up from the base of the building to the very top.

Something similar happened in Irvine in 1999, after which new regulations were put out which limited the types of cladding which could be used. In particular, they mandated barriers at various points in the cavity, blocking off the “chimney” on all sides. And in 2014 Grenfell’s landlords decided to install exactly this kind of cladding in order to “improve its appearance” when viewed from the luxury flats nearby. The Guardian has reported that some panels used in modern cladding are only fire-proofed on the surface, behind which is up to 30cm of highly flammable polyurethane. If true, that is a major non-conformance with regulations. But even if not, were the proper firebreaks put in place behind the panels?

Once spread via cladding, the fire could have caught on curtains blowing through windows left open on a hot summer’s night. Again this is believed to have been a factor in the Lakanal House fire in 2009. That disaster occurred on a very similar night to this one.

Even if this proves to be correct, however, the building should still have been safe. For the fire to spread internally after that point it would still have to get through the fire door in the individual room, through another fire door at the front of the flat, and through yet more doors in the corridor outside. Clearly there has been a failure of multiple systems: for one to fail is perhaps understandable, but for so many to have failed all at once, in the modern era, is entirely unheard of.

The investigation will of course look into this. But another explanation may lie in reports, as yet unsubstantiated, that works were recently carried out to the gas main that runs vertically up the building. If the contractors carrying out those works did not replace the necessary fire protection after finishing, that would be an easy way for fire to spread. Anything that creates a path for fire can and will be used in that fashion. Even a drill-hole of four inches in diameter can be enough. And if there are combustible materials in ducts – plastic pipes, plastic wires – flames can creep rapidly through a building without the fire service even knowing.

The Lakanal House fire led to specific recommendations. All landlords were given clear, copious information on fire precautions and told to undertake regular risk assessments. People like me then go around the tower blocks checking for ducts that need to be blocked or cladding that needs to be fixed. The problem is that we never really know whether the works we recommend are actually carried out, or, if they were, how long they took. There is no easy way to check whether landlords have carried out their duty.

Worse, there is an ongoing issue around contractors who don’t understand what they need to do to ensure fire safety. Anyone who the landlord allows to alter or amend a building, in any way, shape or form, must be made aware of which walls are fire walls and which materials need to be replaced after they’re done. That, too, doesn’t always happen.

We shouldn’t overstate the danger. There are literally thousands of blocks like this across the UK and there are probably several hundred fires which start in them every year. These fires usually don’t spread and are dealt with in exactly the expected fashion; more people probably die in fires in two- or three-storey houses than in tower blocks.

Nevertheless, the standard of safety across London is highly variable. Some landlords are right on top of it, and act on issues that are reported within a matter of hours. Others don’t give fire safety the priority that it requires.

What’s frustrating is that we are all familiar with going into a toilet block and seeing a register on the wall to show that someone has gone round to check it is clean. There’s no such process for fire safety. Perhaps we need to make landlords post evidence of regular risk assessments in communal areas so residents can see exactly what has been checked and what hasn’t. Or perhaps we need to give fire brigades the resources to conduct building inspections themselves, as they did back in the 1970s. Nowadays, buildings are effectively self-certified.

Whether regulations and recommendations were followed in this case will come out in the wash. But indications on the council’s website indicate the building was approved on a “building notice”. This type of fast track planning application saves the need to submit detailed proposals and plans to the building inspector and relies on the experience of the inspector to recognise and approve the works by eye. This type of application is wholly inappropriate for large complex buildings and should only be used on small, simple domestic buildings.

Nobody can turn around after Knowsley, Irvine and Lakanal and say they didn’t know there were risks. The guidance was there, the instructions were clear, and we knew the problem. The question is now whether we will do anything about it.

[Geoff Wilkinson is the managing director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants]

Grenfell Tower – The KCTMO Culture Of Negligence

 [Posted by Lara Keller 19/6/17, Updated 21/9/17]

Must Read Information: Grenfell Tower – The KCTMO Culture Of Negligence See: https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-tower-the-kctmo-culture-of-negligence/

Text of post:

The many who lost their lives in this catastrophe were our friends and neighbours. We tried to speak for them in life and we will continue to speak for them now. We share the pain of the homeless, the injured and the bereaved to whom we offer our heartfelt sympathy, condolences and solidarity. We also share the sense of anger and injustice that has troubled this community for years. That is why we started this blog and that is why we will continue as we started, speaking truth to power whether or not they choose to listen.

Even the dogs in the street know that the flammable cladding encasing the exterior of Grenfell Tower played a major part in spreading and accelerating what began as a single dwelling fire with such rapidity that the entire interior of the 24 storey building became a raging inferno in less than an hour. It is incumbent on us also to state our firmly held belief that the cladding in question was not introduced for the benefit of the residents of Grenfell Tower but because Kensington and Chelsea Council had redeveloped the surounding area, building another of their flagship academy schools right next to Grenfell Tower, and a new sports and leisure centre next to that. The cladding on Grenfell Tower was intended to pimp it up so that it wouldn’t spoil the image of creeping gentrification that the Council are intent on creating, here and throughout the rest of North Kensington.

According to an article published on 14th June in the Guardian government ministers were warned numerous times that breaches of fire safety standards are common in the UK and that the use of cladding on high-rise blocks is unsafe. The government ignored the advice of these fire experts. In the 1990’s the Home Office received a damning report by architect Sam Webb following a survey of hundreds of residential tower blocks. The study found that half of the buildings inspected did not meet basic fire safety regulations. Webb described the state of Britain’s tower blocks as ‘a disaster waiting to happen’.

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/14/disaster-waiting-to-happen-fire-expert-slams-uk-tower-blocks

The Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009 subsequently proved him right. Six people, including three children, died when a fire in the high rise block in which they lived spread from the ninth floor to the tenth and eleventh floors of the building via flammable cladding that had been fixed to the exterior of the block.

Southwark Council subsequently pleaded guilty to four breaches of fire regulations. Labour MP Harriet Harman, whose constituency includes Lakanal House, said that those who had escaped with their lives were those who had ignored fire brigade instructions to ‘stay put’ and fled the building via the emergncy stairs. Those who died were those who obeyed instructions to stay in their homes. The advice to stay put would have been correct were it not for the recent obsession with cladding high rise buildings and in particular with the use of cheaper flammable cladding, which renders the standard fire safety advice redundant, and caused the fires at Lakanal house and at Grenfell Tower to spread so rapidly and uncontrollably from floor to floor. The Lakanal inquest arrived at a number of conclusions and recommendations which included the following;

lakanal-inquest - Copy

Since then there have been a number of high profile high rise fires in which the presence of cladding played a key role, notably in Dubai where, in February 2015 fire engulfed the 79 storey Torch skyscraper, one of the tallest residential buildings in the world, and the 63 storey Address Hotel where, on New Years Eve 2016, there was a similar fire. In both of these cases external cladding was implicated in the extremely rapid spread of the fire up the exterior of both buildings. There was one fatality and 14 were injured in the Address fire and no casualties at the Torch. It would seem that the rich of Dubai are far safer in their luxury skyscrapers than the poor of Kensington were in the 28 storey Grenfell Tower.

The fire risks from cladding of high rise residential blocks have been known for years. The Government dragged its feet after the Lakanal fire, despite the recommendations of the inquest judge and a report the Government commissioned in 2013 that recommended an urgent review of fire safety policies for high rise blocks. We believe the dangers of cladding must have been known by the Council and TMO technical staff involved in planning the Grenfell Tower ‘improvement works’ and by the contractor Rydon and sub-contractor who carried out the works and seems to have opted for cheaper highly flammable cladding.

Needless to say none of this information about the known fire risks associated with the use of cladding was ever communicated to the residents of Grenfell Tower

Of course there is more to all this controversy than the media have so far reported and we have evidence that we will present here that strongly supports the widely held local belief that a culture of complacency, indifference and negligence has continued for many years at the KCTMO and with which the RBKC are complicit and equally negligent.

THE GRENFELL TOWER EMERGENCY LIGHTING CRISIS – 2004/5

Early in 2004 Lancaster West Estate Management Board received leaked information indicating that the emergency lighting system in the staircase at Grenfell Tower was in a dangerous state of disrepair. This information proved to be entirely accurate and strongly suggested that the contractors who were responsible for inspecting the emergency lighting system had been falsifying their inspection certificates for several years and giving the system a clean bill of health. The reality was that the system had been badly neglected for years and by 2004 two thirds of the lighting units were non-functional because the battery packs that powered them were too old, worn out, and useless. In response to this information the EMB began a campaign aimed at ensuring that all emergency lighting systems at Lancaster West were functioning properly and seeking answers to the serious questions the lapse at Grenfell Tower raised. For several months the TMO denied there was any problem or negligence, but the EMB continued to press them and eventually they relented and commissioned an independent investigation of the issues. This was conducted by Peter West of Capita Symonds Ltd and was completed in May 2005.

Mr West’s investigation was based on a study of all relevant documentation including the report submitted by the EMB in August 2004 which he found to be ‘substantially accurate’. Some of his conclusions were based on inconsistencies in the available documents held by the TMO and the unexplained absence of some essential documents. His report was as thorough and comprehensive as could be expected under the circumstances and its main conclusions were summarized as follows:

Lack of suitable communications between the contractor and the TMO
Lack of suitable communications within the TMO
Failure to acknowledge the importance of undertaking urgent remedial works by both the TMO and the contractor.
Lack of communications between the TMO and the EMB
Inadequate installation standards of the contractor
Lack of adequate strategy planning by the TMO, suitably supported by the contractor

The West Report also concluded that all aspects of the contract conditions and management required extensive review in order that the TMO ‘could be proactive in its approach and be able to develop a specification that reflected the skills and resources available to appoint and manage a suitable contractor’. It also recommended that the TMO should review whether the current contractors were suitable to continue with the contract, and whether they should even be allowed to submit a bid for a new contract.

According to the Report the primary causes of the problems were the contractors poor administration, communication, management procedures and the quality of installation works. However, it also stressed that the TMO had a responsibility to the Borough, the public and the residents of Grenfell Tower, to ensure that contractors comply with their contractual obligations and provide a duty of care to residents. This objective, it found, had not been apparent and it had been concluded that a considerable effort would be required to amend the culture and procedures at the TMO to ensure effective future management. The West Report ultimately led to replacement of all emergency lighting systems at Lancaster West and a thorough overhaul of systems throughout the borough.

THE GRENFELL TOWER FIRE RISK ASSESSMENT – November 2012

We acquired the last published fire risk assessment frim the TMO some time ago and blogged it at the time, but were unable to acquire any later asessments. We found the 32 page report to be unremarkable except for a section of inspector’s comments or observations quoted below from page 28 which gave us serious cause for concern;

‘The fire extinguishers in this building, the basement boiler room, the lift motor room, the ground floor electrical room plus other areas were out of test date according to the contractors label on the extinguishers. The last test date was on the 8th August 2011. Some located in the roof level areas had “condemned” written on them in large black writing with a last test date of 2009 or 2010. This seems to indicate that monthly occupier inspections are not being carried out.

It is not known if the caretaker is undertaking the monthly occupier’s tests of the installed emergency lighting system, fire extinguishers and structural items as per the caretakers check list. This would include the external stairs and lift checks with the results being kept as a record of testing having been undertaken.

From the asset records provided by the TMO the emergency lighting and fire alarm systems along with the dry riser, fire fighter lifts and the hose reels installed in this building are all subject to a maintenance contract. Testing, servicing and maintenance is carried out by professional third party contractors on a planned preventative maintenance programme with records kept centrally by the TMO and by the contractor for all these systems. No test certificates have been seen to confirm this.’

In our opinion one of the most alarming aspects of these comments was the fact that the inspector could not locate any of the test certificates pertaining to inspections of the emergency lighting and fire alarm systems (and other vital fire fighting equipment) which were supposedly held centrally by the TMO. We are entitled to suppose that he requested these certificates from the TMO who were unable (or perhaps unwilling) to produce them. This raises crucial questions about whether the remedial actions and protocols agreed after the 2004/2005 emergency lighting crisis had ever been followed through and whether the culture of negligence and incompetence evident from the Capita Symonds Report of 2005 had ever changed, as it absolutely should have done.

Grenfell Tower Fire Risk Assessment Nov 2012 [ https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-tower-the-kctmo-culture-of-negligence/grenfell-tower-fire-risk-assessment-nov-2012/ ]

THE GRENFELL TOWER POWER SURGE CRISIS – May 2013

In May 2013 a serious electrical fault causing multiple power surges at Grenfell Tower posed a major fire risk to residents many of whom witnessed smoke coming from light fittings and other electrical appliances, some of which actually exploded. Despite the fact that these highly alarming incidents were reported to the TMO on 11th May no effective action was taken until the problems escalated out of control on 29th May 2013.

The power surges had been ongoing for 18 days with multiple reports by residents of electrical appliances catching fire and sometimes exploding, but multiple reports to the TMO by Grenfell Tower residents were treated with a dismissive and sceptical attitude. When electrical engineers were sent to investigate they insisted that the apparent smoking of electrical appliances was probably caused by steam from water dripping onto the appliances. Residents found these dismissive theories deeply insulting and we believe they demonstrated a shockingly blasé and complacent attitude by the TMO and its agents.

Consequently no effective action was taken until a near catastrophic incident occurred on the weekend of Sunday 29th May which affected multiple households and damaged many electrical appliances beyond repair. On that Sunday there were severe power surges throughout the night that continued through the following morning. A flood of complaints to the TMO out-of-hours emergency repairs service, and on Monday to the estate office, finally prompted the TMO to order a more thorough investigation of the power surge issue. They installed specialised metering equipment that soon revealed that there were indeed serious power surges which were subsequently traced to arcing in a damaged mains power cable supplying Grenfell Tower. The cause of the damage, they claimed, was unknown. The mains cable was subsequently repaired and surge protection was later added.

The residnt groups, having been vindicated at last, were furious at the complacency and negligence of the TMO responses throughout the 18 days of the power surge ordeal. They appealed to the RBKC Housing and Property Scrutiny Committee and it was agreed that representatives from Grenfell Tower would attend the meeting of the Committee on 16th July 2013 to report and discuss their concerns. TMO representatives also attended the meeting and presented their own report which contradicted the residents accounts of what had occurred and downplayed the seriousness of the matter and the fire risk involved.

Robert Black, the CEO of the TMO, also alleged that the Grenfell Action Group and other local stakeholders, such as the Grenfell Tower Leaseholders Association, had made misleading statements on our blog and in round robin emails. When we later challenged him to substantiate these allegations, by specifying which of the statements he believed to be misleading, he declined to do so and failed to provide any evidence for this or other derogatory statements he had made to the Scrutiny Committee.

When the residents groups were eventually able to study the minutes of the meeting and the report that was submitted by the TMO we were horrified to discover that the Scrutiny Committee had chosen to accept the TMO version of events and had given little creedence to the explicit health and safety concerns highlighted earlier by the resident groups in an email to the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee on 9th July.

Incidentally the Committee Report, submitted several weeks after the incident, included the following remarks:

‘It is too early to say whether the problem has been fully resolved and where responsibility lies for the cause. It is possible that the fault that has been rectified is not the primary cause.’

Grenfell Tower residents were never informed whether the primary cause of the electrical problem was ever identified.

It seems that RBKC social housing tenants can never win an argument with the TMO, despite the evidence overwhelmingly backing our accounts, and complaints to the Council are just as pointless because they will invariably treat residents concerns with the same contempt shown by their bedfellows and partners in crime the KCTMO.

A5. Grenfell Tower Update [ https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/grenfell-tower-the-kctmo-culture-of-negligence/a5-grenfell-tower-update/ ]

https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/the-disempowered-of-grenfell-tower/

We had hoped when we began writing this piece to keep abreast of breaking news, but that was a futile effort as the story developed and unfolded at such a pace that we couldn’t keep up. Nonetheless the opinion we expressed so strongly about the role of the cladding still holds good and we are confident it will remain a crucial part of the final account of the Grenfell Tower disaster.

We had another objective in mind when writing this piece. It was to chronicle the history of complacency, negligence and incompetence that has defined the RBKC and KCTMO for as long as we can remember. We had enough evidence in our possession to begin making that case and we believe it was vitally important to begin the task of recording it in the hope that those tasked with investigating the causes of the Grenfell Tower inferno would be forced to investigate this history and would be unable to ignore or bury it.

The short blog we posted on the night of the fire went viral, to our enormous surprise, and has been quoted and used as source material by a great many journalists. We are counting now on these same journalists to publicise the years of TMO and RBKC negligence that we have recorded today. We are convinced there is plenty more of such evidence waiting to be uncovered.

[End Of Post]

 

Grenfell renovation proposed temporary removal of fire protections

Grenfell renovation proposed temporary removal of fire protections

[Posted by Lara Keller on 19/6/17, Updated 21/9/17]

Inside Housing, 14 June 2017 2:40 pm By Luke Barratt

Safeguards intended to prevent the spread of fire from floor to floor were set to be temporarily removed from Grenfell Tower during a refurbishment, according to documents from the planning application.

A fire tore through the 24-storey Kensington tower block in the early hours of this morning, spreading quickly between floors. The cause of the fire and the cause of the spread are not yet known.

The 2016 refurbishment, which took place after the most recent full fire risk assessment on the tower, included the installation of a new heating system in the tower. This required the replacement of the pipes in the floors.

To install the new pipes, the ‘fire stopping’ – systems used to seal openings and joints to prevent the spread of fire – would have had to be partially removed, under the “preferred option” listed in a report from 2012 by engineers Max Fordham. The document said this option was adopted.

The intention, according to the sustainability and energy statement, was to replace the fire stopping once the new pipes had been installed.

Max Fordham did not respond to enquiries about the safeguards put in place to ensure that fire stopping was replaced properly.

According to information released by Kensington and Chelsea Council under the Freedom of Information Act, the most recent fire risk assessment on the tower was in December 2015, before this work took place.

The heating system in the tower uses pipework in the floor underneath every flat, and according to the sustainability and energy statement, engineers needed to replace all pipes to update the heating system, meaning that fire stopping was removed from every floor in the building.

These plans were approved by the council in 2014, when officers noted that the new heating system would “provide a significant improvement to the sustainability of the building”.

Rydon, the construction company which carried out the refurbishment, has issued the following statement: “We are shocked to hear of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower and our immediate thoughts are with those that have been affected by the incident, their families, relatives and friends.

“Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KCTMO [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation] on behalf of the council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health and safety standards. We will co-operate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their enquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time.

“Given the ongoing nature of the incident and the tragic events overnight, it would be inappropriate for us to speculate or comment further at this stage.”

[Source= http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/fire-safeguards-in-grenfell-were-temporarily-removed-during-refurbishment/7020464.article]