Council Response to Renuka’s Comment on “Fire Safety in Southwark Blocks”

Renuka

From: FireSafetyConcerns [mailto:firesafetyconcerns@southwark.gov.uk]
Sent: 31 August 2017 09:12
Cc: ‘tgntra@gmail.com’ <tgntra@gmail.com>
Subject: RE: [Tabard Gardens North T&RA] Please moderate: “Fire Safety in Southwark Blocks”

Dear Renuka

Thank you for your enquiry.

We are making excellent progress with the removal of all items from the communal areas.  Housing Officers are working tirelessly to ensure that these areas become sterile and that they will remain that way.  If you feel that this has not happened quickly enough in your block then please inform the Fire Safety Team at FRA@southwark.gov.uk and they will respond accordingly.

Southwark does not have any communal smoke alarm systems installed in the common areas of our blocks for the reasons given below;

In ‘general needs’ blocks designed to support a ‘stay put’ strategy, it is unnecessary and undesirable for a fire alarm system to be provided. A communal fire detection and alarm system will inevitably lead to a proliferation of false alarms. This will impose a burden on fire and rescue services and lead to residents ignoring warnings of genuine fires.  There is a concern that where communal alarms systems are installed and in the event that they were activated, this would be an indicator of fire or smoke in the escape route and residents evacuating their properties could potentially be entering an unsafe escape route and impede the emergency services.   We would not usually fit communal smoke detection in a purpose built block of flats unless it was there to operate Automatic Smoke Control (AOV) but these smoke heads would not have sounders to warn anyone. Normally these would be activated on the arrival of the emergency services when they have to knock down a door or at the least open it to address the fire, hence allowing smoke to enter an escape route the AOV would then activate to remove any such smoke.

As part of our fire safety programme and in response to the coroner’s recommendations following the Lakanal fire, LD2 smoke detection has been installed in the dwellings of all our tower blocks and was also offered free of charge to leaseholders. The alarms are interlinked and consist of smoke detectors in all rooms and a heat detector in the kitchen.  When one sounds they all sound in the dwelling, thus giving the resident the earliest possible warning of a problem. The same systems are being rolled out to all other dwellings as part of the ongoing major works programme.

All blocks of flats are built with a high level of fire separation also known as compartmentation.  This allows for the ‘stay put policy’, which you may have heard of.

A ‘stay put’ policy involves the following approach:

  • When a fire occurs in a flat, the occupants alert others in the flat, they all make their way out of the building and call the fire service.
  • If a fire starts in the common parts of block, those in those areas must make their way out of the building and summon the fire and rescue service.
  • All those not directly affected by the fire would be expected to ‘stay put’ and remain in their flat unless directed to leave by the fire and rescue service.

It is not implied that those not directly affected who wish to leave the building should be prevented from doing so.  Nor does this preclude those evacuating a flat that is on fire from alerting their neighbours so that they can also escape if they feel threatened.  This policy has been used by all housing providers since the 1960s, it supports current and previous building regulations which require these blocks to have high levels of vertical and horizontal compartmentation.  It is the recommended method for residential buildings as defined in the guidance ‘Fire Safety in Purpose Built Blocks of Flats’ and by the fire service.

For more information about this guidance and other fire safety advice go to http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/staying-in-or-going-out.asp

It is for this reason that many buildings only have a single stair.  We do not envisage the council supplying rope ladders as they may lead to unprecedented numbers of deaths and injuries as a result of their use.  There also may be a case from those residents who have concerns about individuals using such apparatus for purposes other than they were designed for.

The terrible fire at Grenfell Tower means that we need to take stock and review our current fire safety strategy and this is something which we have already started to do.

Yours sincerely,

Fire Safety Concerns Team.

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