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Discussion > Grenfell Tower - Deadly Fires: Mismanagement, or just no managers present

gc

Given the warnings about Grenfell fire risk it'll be interesting to see how that's dealt with.

No doubt there will be excuses and full on self justification - like the fwit housing association locally (to me) who identified a legionella risk and maintenance cost to the sprinkler systems they had in place and proposed decommissioning them - even though they had at least one case where a fire was arrested by an installation....

One has to suspect that RBKC and KCTMO nabobs and managers had their own preoccupations and priorities and it'll be interesting to see if this is addressed. If the makeup of the task force is anything to go by - "lessons will be learned" and as you were... carry on.

I'm going to guess that the cladding panel manufacturers and installers are in the establishment's crosshairs.

Dec 29, 2017 at 1:18 AM | Registered Commentertomo

tomo, the Inquiry has started, and some gruesome detail will emerge, and prosecutions may follow.

All the precautions to prevent the spread of fire within a building, including fire doors, sprinklers etc are cancelled out if fire spreads outside a building, and then re-enters.

The cost of installing a sprinkle system is not prohibitive, the cost of accidental activation is. The maintenance and testing (including Legionnaires prevention) is another cost and risk, that landlords are wary of.

The classification of materials used in construction, particularly around combustion and spread of flame, will come under scrutiny. I do not know whether UK Building Regulations are closely tied to EU Standards, but similar fires have occurred in Germany.

The benefits, including longer term maintenance and insulation etc of cladding buildings, remain sound. The performance of the insulation, at different thicknesses, and the detailed design (or lack of) of the "cladding system", not just the individual component parts, needs to be reviewed, along with interactions with the fenestration, and its component parts.

Dec 29, 2017 at 11:29 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dec 29, 2017 at 11:29 AM by golf charlie

With a proper design, accidental activation of the main sprinkler system should not be expensive.

Few homes have sprinkler systems, so I don't see why every flat should have to have a sprinkler system, let alone one connected to central activation points. At worst flats could have their own sprinklers, activated from within the flat.

What is needed is that every flat should have easy access to a non-inflammable, smoke free passage way to escape. It needs to be made of materials that allow the sprinklers to be activated every month, to clear out any items being stored where they should not, with the water used to clean the stone floors. No need for pails of water!

Dec 29, 2017 at 11:48 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

"With a proper design, accidental activation of the main sprinkler system should not be expensive."

Dec 29, 2017 at 11:48 AM | Robert Christopher

That is the problem, that has yet to be resolved. Too may smoke detectors are removed because they "keep going off". No one wants to have a sngle room sprayed with water due to burnt toast. A Landlord does not want that to happen in a block of flats.

I certainly agree that sprinklers should be within the "Means of Escape" - corridors, stairs etc, and that would require a change to Fire Proof and Waterproof floor, wall and ceiling finishes and electrics.

Dec 29, 2017 at 1:39 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dec 29, 2017 at 1:18 AM | tomo

The risk of legionella breeding in lengths of water filled pipe with no regular flow is real. If the water was routinely circulated, and kept dosed with household bleach to a chlorine level found in swimmng pools, there would be no problem.

Mains pressure will not be sufficient to supply the upper levels of most tower blocks with water for drinking, let alone supplying an activated sprinkler system. Pumps supplying roof tanks would be required, but gravity alone would not be sufficient to operate the sprays from the sprinklers in the upper levels. More pumps would be required, which would be ok until the power failed due to a fire.

I do not know what volume of water is required to be sprayed by a sprinkler per square or cubic metre to be deemed "sufficient" to extinguish or suppress a fire.

Dec 29, 2017 at 2:11 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

gc

The concept of a protected escape corridor isn't exactly new, fire suppressant water systems are available in an assortment of functionality options - some of which have extremely low false activation records.

The cladding that burned - the cost<> benefit seems very hard indeed to justify and the material selection criteria looks to have been a mixture of cosmetics and eco-piety with combustibility hardly on the radar.

Fashion driven Incompetence seems a given - there will be considerable effort going into stopping that heading into culpable negligence territory - where damages are essentially uncapped.

The 2017 report makes for some interesting reading - £600K loss on the preceding year

KCTMO seems to extend its operations to a host of "social care" and self promotion activities which have little to do with managing property - e.g. Community Alarm Service .

After a skim of the online presence I haven't seen much mention of any specialist technical services (or even competences) - technical competence seems to be contracted in ad-hoc and it seems clear that they just wing it until they feel out of their depth.....

Dec 29, 2017 at 2:57 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Dec 29, 2017 at 1:39 PM by golf charlie

If you read what I wrote, you will see that the main sprinklers would not put any water inside the flats: the flats would be on individual systems that I would have thought would not need to automatically turn on the water. They could sound an alarm. That is what happens, at best, in houses and bungalows.

Dec 29, 2017 at 7:44 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher, apologies but the media are priming the public to believe that sprinklers will solve the problem. This is what the Fire and Rescue Services have been advocating for years. But they don't always get it right:

Capital & Counties (Capco) v Hampshire County Council [1997] 3 WLR 331

Three conjoined appeals in actions against emergency fire services:

Capital & Counties (Capco) v Hampshire County Council

"A fire broke out in the building owned by the claimant . The fire brigade arrived and turned off the sprinkler system. They then had difficulty in locating the seat of the fire during which time the fire became out of control. By the time the firemen had located the seat of the fire Block A of the building had collapsed and spread to blocks B & C. They then reactivated the sprinkler system however, by now it was so damaged as to not work effectively. In the event the entire building was completely destroyed causing loss of £16M. Had the sprinklers not been switched off it is likely blocks B & C would have been saved."

Dec 29, 2017 at 9:29 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dec 29, 2017 at 2:57 PM | tomo

Protected means of escape are not new, but they tend to get encroached with furniture and wall/floor/ceiling finishes that will burn, and be expensive to clean or replace if drenched by a sprinkler system.

The "combustibilty" of the cladding is going to get contentious. As a system, it must have passed some tests in order for it to be acceptable as specified. Sample panels removed from other buildings apparently "failed" tests. What these tests involved, and whether the Grenfell cladding was installed to the same specification as tested, I don't know. Similar cladding fires in Germany must have led to some form of legal investigation?

The problem for any organisation that contracts out most of its "professional expertise", is knowing when the professional experts can be trusted. The blame throwing may extend upwards to those that originally tested and certified the cladding system.

Dec 29, 2017 at 10:21 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

gc

I think the term sprinkler is not entirely appropriate to the water based fire suppressant systems out there. That said the glass ampule systems are almost universally seen as the only option - but substituting a low melt point metal fuse imho almost guarantees resistance to miscreants not armed with a blow torch. The misting systems are very effective and use very low water flows to suppress a fire resulting in only very localised damage...

As to the cladding - various people have pointed out that certification systems are a morass of wordplay and competing authorities (the EU has been blamed in part by some - seeking to deploy their own standards) and the unwary make assumptions not perceiving that the words are stretched and pushed beyond their everyday usage and that there is in many cases no product liability enforceable. But we are, I suspect - dealing with people who liked the colour and shapes of the panels and didn't look any further - KCTMO do not seem capable of making any more informed choices = municipal simple shoppers. In addition to Germany iirc both the USA and Australia have had issues with combustibility of insulating cladding.

The manufacturers and installers will have a fight on their hands and as the ever obsessive Richard North has pointed out there's been some epic semantic games played with the specs and testing.

KCTMO and RBKC have been negligent - I think that is clear - will they suck it up and clean up their act ? I suspect not and fully expect the inquiry to deflect from the municipals to the insurers of the suppliers / installers. I'd like to be proved wrong.

Dec 29, 2017 at 11:16 PM | Registered Commentertomo

tomo, any liquid spray will require cleaning up after activation. This may seem like ghastly irony, but insurance companies won't keep paying for it, so owners will have to. Concrete, brickwork, blockwork etc may not burn, but they absorb a lot of water, which takes a long time to dry out. Houses that have been flooded are normally left for 6 months+, before repairs can be started.

Much will be made of the "Certification" of the cladding system, and who Certified it, for its use on Hi Rise buildings. If the cladding system was deemed fit for purpose, and then specified, designed and installed as per the manufacturers certified methods, establishing blame may not be straightforward. Expect a lot of defensive statements at the Inquiry.

Dec 30, 2017 at 12:50 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Building Research Establishment report on water misting - worth a read. Effective suppression, low collateral damage, cost effective etc., etc. Hollywood sprinklers they are not - you absolutely do not need to flood the place to control a fire. Kitchens and escape routes in high density housing look like ideal applications. see http://www.imist.co.uk/

The competing, meddling bureaucracies dealing with the type approvals / certification of products have riddled their output with poor language in documentation, inappropriate testing and slow responses (years) to dealing with new or improved products. This applies as much to building materials as to fire systems - as can be seen from the slow progress certifying water misting despite its self evident benefits.

I do wonder if anybody has strict liability in legal terms in the chain of events - from where the buck can't be passed.

It may well be that Grenfell and the subsequent insurance claim(s) will drive the insurance industry to emplace a UL style list of approvals that can be relied on more that the pettifogging self sustaining blizzard of conflicting stuff that seems to be in place at present.

Dec 30, 2017 at 4:27 AM | Registered Commentertomo

tomo, with diesel cars, the EU will have brought in industry experts (including manufacturers?) to help design the performance and testing criteria etc.

I don't know who designed the performance and testing criteria for insulated cladding systems, that the Grenfell system was apparently certified to be compliant with. This may be revealed during the Inquiry, and would be the focus of some attention over allegations of "non-compliance".

Thank you for the BRE 2005 Link. Interesting reading. It makes reference to pressurised mist sprays etc, and I am aware of their use in ships. A mist is very good in a sealed space, or one that is well contained, or over specific high risk installations. Their use in "means of escape" in buildings would be of great benefit, also having a cooling effect, for those trying to escape.

Those who survived Grenfell, did so by ignoring the instructions to wait for rescue sevices. They got out.

Dec 30, 2017 at 10:49 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

gc

"Those who survived Grenfell, did so by ignoring the instructions to wait for rescue sevices. They got out."

Reminds me of Piper Alpha

Rob Davies of The Guardian did a useful overview of the web of companies working on the refurbishment back in June - some decent journalism from The Guardian.

One thing that I think is really worth noting is that Studio E - the architectural practice for the refurbishment - haven't renewed their web site registration - I get a whiff of strict liability ......

Dec 30, 2017 at 2:49 PM | Registered Commentertomo

Dec 29, 2017 at 9:29 PM by golf charlie
No need to apologize.

Dec 29, 2017 at 10:21 PM by golf charlie
Protected means of escape are not new, but they tend to get encroached with furniture and wall/floor/ceiling finishes that will burn, and be expensive to clean or replace if drenched by a sprinkler system.

My point was that having the main automatic sprinklers only on the unfurnished main escape route and not connected to the apartments, any accidental sprinkling would not affect the flats and would discourage using the route for storage. :)

"... the media are priming the public to believe that sprinklers will solve the problem."
Your post sounds like you think sprinklers are of little use in any incident.

Dec 30, 2017 at 7:33 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Dec 30, 2017 at 12:50 AM by golf charlie

Concrete, brickwork, blockwork etc may not burn, but they absorb a lot of water, which takes a long time to dry out. Houses that have been flooded are normally left for 6 months+, before repairs can be started.

Wet rooms do not have this problem, for some reason. The correct materials need to be used.

Dec 30, 2017 at 7:35 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher, I am not against sprinklers/spray systems etc. Insurance Companies would like them to be installed, but won't want to pay for the consequences of activation if no fire exists.

Owners of buildings in multiple occupancy do not want to pay, and nor do their tenants or guests.

That is the brutal economics of it.

If the means of escape were fitted with sprinklers/sprays, with appropriate finishes to walls floors and ceilings, it would be an advance. As the link provided by tomo confirms, sprays/mists may not extinguish a blazing inferno, but they should prevent one from developing from a small fire, and reduce its ability to spread.

We must await the Inquiry to understand how many people complied with the "fire drill instructions", to stay in their flat and died there, or died trying to escape.

Throughout my education, work etc, evacuation of the building has always been part of any Fire Drill. Grenfell Tower was better able to resist the spread of fire when it was built, than after it was refurbished.

Through work, I have had involvement with the consequences of fires, including some "forensics", but not this century.

Dec 30, 2017 at 10:55 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dec 30, 2017 at 10:55 PM by golf charlie
I am not against sprinklers/spray systems etc. Insurance Companies would like them to be installed, but won't want to pay for the consequences of activation if no fire exists.

I cannot see what dire consequences there would be if the escape routes were as I described, apart from the few people in the escape routes getting wet. There wouldn't be many as most would use the lifts.

Dec 30, 2017 at 11:08 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher, as a retrofit, it would cost "a lot".

Lifts are not the best option for rapid mass evacuation of a tower block, especially one that is on fire, with water being sprayed. But you are right, most would try the lifts, and probably trigger the overload safety cutout device.

Dec 31, 2017 at 12:59 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

gc

KCTMO spent what, ca. £70K+ per flat on the refurb ?

If you follow the link I provided earlier you'll find that their present one off system pricing starts at ca. £1800 fitted - which I would expect to drop with increased quantity.

I think that high density housing such as student halls, tower blocks, care homes etcetera should have extended provision for fire events in the same way as ships and aircraft. The alarms should be regularly tested, evacuation drills held and communal fire suppression equipment should be fitted. If people don't like it they are entirely free to find alternate accommodation.

Dec 31, 2017 at 1:13 AM | Registered Commentertomo

Dec 31, 2017 at 12:59 AM by golf charlie

I was NOT suggesting using the lifts when there was a fire. Every lift I have seen (in the UK) has a warning about that!

I was commenting on the occasions when the sprinklers were accidently turned on. There would be few in the escape route as they would normally be using the lifts.

And I was suggesting a better design that reduced the damage when sprinklers were accidently turned on, which would encourage sprinklers to be installed, not draconian alterations to every block of flats in the UK!

Dec 31, 2017 at 2:40 AM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

tomo & Robert Christopher,

I have been trying to explain some of the reasons why sprinklers are NOT mandatory already, in anticipation of what may emerge from the Inquiry, and subsequent media debate. I have no personal, professional or financial interest.

A fine mist spray, to suppress fire and reduce heat in means of escape, would encourage people to evacuate

Dec 31, 2017 at 8:42 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

The blame game is not straightforward, if people have complied with the requirements of "experts"

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/21/grenfell-tower-16-council-inspections-failed-to-stop-use-of-flammable-cladding

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jul/13/grenfell-tower-building-control-warned-about-refit-insulation-plan

Dec 31, 2017 at 8:54 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Dec 31, 2017 at 8:42 AM by golf charlie

I haven't been asking, or demanding, sprinklers!

I have suggested ways of minimising water damage where sprinklers are installed, so they would be more likely installed where they were deemed appropriate.

Dec 31, 2017 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered CommenterRobert Christopher

The Victorians used floor and wall tiling in public toilets so they could be cleaned with a mop and bucket.

Commercial kitchens use non slip heavy duty vinyl floor coverings with glue sealed joints, taken up the walls. Hospital wards use something similar.

Converting a bath and/or shower room into a "wet room", by lining walls and floor, with a damp proof membrane is not that simple or cheap. It is complcated by every wire or pipe that needs to go through the membrane. Minor leaks may not be noticed until long after any guarantee has expired. Any timber in floors or structure may be liable to dry rot, not just wet rot.

Dec 31, 2017 at 8:02 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie