Fire Protection News January 2020
Fire Sector Federation calls for a decade of change after a decade of neglect
Following the release of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report, the Fire Sector Federation says it will press harder to make sure fire safety is a priority across the built environment
- Fire Sector Federation is relieved this report into the findings from the first phase of the Inquiry has been released
- By exposing weaknesses it reinforces the need to press harder in the task to make fire safety a priority across the built environment
- After a decade of neglect in fire safety control we must continue what has started into a decade of change to create new controls, competencies and systems that prevent anything like this happening again
- It will take time and care to absorb all the findings, but we commit ourselves to do that to make our built environment a safer place.
The threat of fire has always demanded serious attention. This comprehensive document explains why and rightly draws attention to poor performance and failures. It also suggests where responsibilities lie for the loss of life and injury that happened on June 14, 2017.
The Federation when considering the detail will continue to reflect that without an appropriate fire strategy and a clear, strong regulatory framework the danger of terrible events like Grenfell Tower will continue to exist.
Firefighting and rescue are the last not first line of defence. The Federation had been shouting in the dark to improve fire safety through better building control before the deaths in the fire at Lakanal House. We will continue to do so until we see the changes proposed by government to implement the Hackitt Review on building fire safety come fully into practice.
Chairman Michael Harper said: “The release of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report with its extensive criticism and recommendations for action reminds everyone of how far the country had fallen in fire safety. It is a sad and crucial milestone. One that demands we all energetically continue the work we have started to rebuild public confidence in their homes being safe. The greatest memorial to those who we have lost and hurt is not just to say ‘never again’ but to put in place the means that make that happen.”
London Fire Brigade response to Grenfell Tower report
London Commissioner Dany Cotton issued a statement following the release of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry Phase 1 Report
London Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton said: “On behalf of London Fire Brigade I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. The suffering of the bereaved, survivors and community will never be forgotten by any of us in the Brigade.
“The Inquiry’s report details from the start that fire spread to the top of the building within 20 minutes. It was an unprecedented residential building fire, precipitated by significant failings of the building’s fire safety measures which created impossible conditions that residents and the emergency services must never be placed in again.
“We will now carefully and fully consider all of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Phase 1 report and take every action we can to improve public safety. Many of the recommendations are welcome and will need to be fully understood, not only by London Fire Brigade but by government, every fire and rescue service and every residential building owner and manager across the country.
“The report is focused on our response and it is right for our actions to be fully examined by the Inquiry. We welcome the Chairman’s recognition of the courage, commitment and bravery of firefighters on the night, but we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others. On the evacuation of Grenfell Tower we note the Chairman states he has received no expert evidence to guide him on reaching his conclusion and that a qualitative judgement on the Brigade’s approach might be better reserved for Phase 2.
“We are also disappointed that measures we have been calling for are not in the recommendations, including the wider use of sprinklers in both new and existing buildings.
“We have made, and will continue to review and make changes to our policies, our training and our equipment. We are lobbying for major building regulation change and urgent research into ‘buildings that fail’ on fire safety, which leaves the national ‘stay put’ strategy no longer viable. We will never give up until all of the changes we are calling for to protect residents have been made.
“We have and will continue to fully assist the Grenfell Tower Inquiry to understand what happened in order to learn and prevent such a tragedy ever happening again.”
Fire chiefs respond to Bolton fire incident
The National Fire Chiefs Council has praised Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service for its swift and professional response to a fire at student accommodation in Bolton on November 15
At its height there were 40 appliances and more than 200 firefighters at the incident. Assistance was given by neighbouring services including Cheshire and Lancashire.
Chair of the NFCC Roy Wilsher, commented: “I would like to thank all firefighters, officers and control staff who worked tirelessly throughout the night with other emergency services to control the fire and evacuate and rescue people from the building to ensure their safety.
“This large and challenging incident once again highlights how changes to building regulations need to be moved on at a much quicker pace and active and passive fire safety measures are maintained to the required current standard.
“I have highlighted this time and time again and raised concerns on how progress has been woefully slow. I have already been in contact with government officials to ensure we discuss this incident as a matter of urgency.
“We have been warning government since the Grenfell Tower fire that urgent action must be taken to protect lives. It is a national outrage that more than 200 buildings still have ACM cladding on them. At this stage we do not know what cladding was on this building, but this will be looked at as part of the investigation along with the whole building structure.
“I recently wrote to government stating that if buildings are not designed, constructed and maintained in a safe condition, fire and rescue services cannot accurately predict the development or lessen the impact of a fire in circumstances similar to those at the Grenfell Tower fire. This leads to the very real risk of another incident involving a similarly large loss of life.
Mr Wilsher added that he had asked government to fund full and proper research into the ‘stay put’ system and how to change to mass evacuation in the event of a failure of the building in a fire.
“We must also continue to consider the ability of fire services to respond to such large scale incidents. The government is currently consulting on sprinklers and our response will demand that the fitting of sprinklers in this and other types of high-risk buildings becomes mandatory, and in many cases is applied retrospectively.
“The safety of buildings is the most fundamental element in ensuring the safety of residents. It is imperative that those with a responsibility for the design, construction and maintenance of buildings do not assume that fire and rescue services are able to provide a safety net, whenever those responsibilities are not met.
“Though the safety of buildings is the responsibility of building developers, owners and managers, we stress that government has the central responsibility for the safety of its citizens and has to take action when these obligations are not being fulfilled.”
Call for risk-based combustible cladding ban
The Fire Protection Association reports on calling for the government combustibility ban for buildings to be based upon risk, not just height, following the Bolton student accommodation fire
The recent ban on combustible building materials by the government was for buildings over 18 metres – or six storeys high. The Cube student block in Bolton (providing student accommodation in a six storey block) which caught fire last November provides a stark reminder that the problem facing UK fire safety is the result of many issues and not just Grenfell-style ACM cladding.
Although the final details have not yet been released, there are a number of key issues reported, all of which are relevant to the ongoing discussions around the current Building Regulations review:
- This was a modern building, designed and built using all of the latest rules, guides and expertise available. Yet, with two people injured, this must be classed as a near miss event. The high pressure laminate (HPL) and timber cladding components clearly played a large part in the fire’s progress, possibly in association with the insulation and cavity membranes present. Since Grenfell, HPL has been talked about to some degree, but no doubt thorough investigations and consideration have been hampered by it not being the focus of a major incident – until now.
- This was a risk in a building only six storeys high, where students sleep. Clearly, we should not limit regulations to the mere height of a building.
- Fire alarms are reported as being almost a daily event, so it is understandable that students did not assume this instance to be any different. Despite this, we know high integrity alarm systems exist which are tested for immunity for common ‘false challenges’. Despite countless calls for change over many years, they remain not legislated for.
Jonathan O’Neill, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association, commented: “The fires at the Bolton student block, Worcester Park in London and the Beechmere care village in Cheshire, prove we cannot be housing people in buildings made from combustible materials. This issue needs to be addressed urgently; it simply cannot wait. We urge this issue to be a priority for the new government.”
Fire legislation in the UK has always been slow to develop. It is reactive, and often requires a major incident or a prolonged statistical demonstration of emerging issues, during which time much harm may be done. It is interesting to note now after years of lax regulation and the increasing use of combustible materials in the structure, insulation, and cladding of buildings, how quickly evidence of fault is currently being uncovered. It demands a similarly speedy response, faster perhaps than has happened since Grenfell.
Manchester’s fire community has been one of the most proactive in assessing and managing their multi-storey buildings since Grenfell, and are to be credited for their response and actions which led to an amendment requiring a full evacuation policy.
We must ask again what fire and building regulations have got to do with height. More than two years on from Grenfell, we are still putting vulnerable people at risk. Should this incident alone not demand the selection of non-combustible materials, deployment of a believable detection and alarm system and the installation of sprinklers to ensure the safety of those away from home in education? This scenario is no different to a school, care home or hospital. Risk is a combination of many factors, of which height is only one.
The Fire Protection Association, the UK’s national fire safety organisation, is calling for:
- Supporting the combustibility ban for buildings based upon risk rather than height alone
- The mandation of high integrity alarm systems as a means to solving the false and unwanted alarms issue
- A requirement for two means of escape from high-rise buildings
- For ‘stay put’ policies to be used only after thorough intrusive inspection to the building to ensure it is capable of supporting it
- The mandation of sprinklers in high risk environments such as schools and care homes.
Electrical goods report highlights funding shortages for local trading standards
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute has responded to the release of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committees report on the safety of electrical goods in the UK
The report was highly critical of appliance manufacturer Whirlpool for failing to modify or replace faulty machines in good time. It also highlighted the use of legal agreements to silence consumers and its focus on deflecting the concerns of customers and safety organisations. The report also criticised the speed and scale of the regulator’s actions taken to resolve the crisis.
As well as criticising Whirlpool, the report expressed concern that funding shortages for Local Trading Standards (LTS) have not yet been addressed. Describing LTS as ‘the eyes and ears’ of the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), the report notes that local trading standards still struggle due to cuts in funding.
CTSI Head of Policy Craig McClue responded to the report: “Yet another report recommends action to tackle the dire state of local trading standards after more than a decade of swingeing austerity cuts. While OPSS support for training and safety sampling is welcome, it won’t reverse the greater than 56 per cent cuts local services have faced in more than a decade. Our system of trading standards is much more than the ‘eyes and ears’ of OPSS, and we echo the report’s calls for any new government to stop hiding and provide a funding solution that resolves this crisis.”
For full report visit: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201920/cmselect/cmbeis/156/156.pdf
New edition of the LPC Sprinkler Rules launched
The Fire Protection Association has launched a new PDF edition of the LPC Sprinkler Rules manual which can be used on iPads and tablet devices, as well as on laptops and computers
The PDF edition reproduces the entire contents of the original Sprinkler Rules manual which the Fire Protection Association launched in 2015. Both the print and PDF editions incorporate the BS EN 12845 standard, supplemented with additional technical bulletins. The PDF edition also includes over 1,900 hot links enabling the viewer to quickly find related information.
The LPC Rules for Automatic Sprinkler Installations 2015 incorporating BS EN 12845 is a comprehensive document on best practice engineering of fixed firefighting sprinkler systems in the UK. The document is aimed at sprinkler contractors, insurers, consultants, architects, local government and general engineers involved in the design, installation, service and maintenance of sprinkler systems. The document is split into three parts with part 1 covering BS EN 12845 ‘life safety’ minimum standards, part 2 technical bulletins for ‘property protection’ and part 3 providing additional associated information.
The Fire Protection Association developed the PDF edition in response to customers’ needing to access content whilst on site and to suit changing preferences in the way people digest content.
The PDF edition of the LPC Sprinkler Rules, which costs £349 + VAT or £299 + VAT for Fire Protection Association members, is encrypted and can be downloaded on up to two personal devices.
Dr Jim Glockling, the Fire Protection Association’s technical director, comments: “LPC Sprinkler Rules is the authoritative guide to best industry practice and is an essential reference tool for anyone designing, installing or maintaining sprinkler systems. It’s great to be able to make this valuable content more widely available digitally.”
Fire extinguishers which are ineffective on lithium-ion battery fires
Firechief reports on the different type of fire extinguishers which are not an effective solution to lithium-ion battery fires and introduce what they say is the most effective alternative on the market today
Water will provide a cooling effect and extinguish the flames from the Class A fire resulting from the burning surroundings of the Lithium Ion battery in thermal runaway. However, the water that is not evaporated by the heat of the fire will run away from the fire and not provide any oxygen barrier and won’t prevent thermal runaway. Re-ignition is inevitable because thermal runaway will continue.
Foam and Wet Chemical
The usual film formed by foam, on a fuel fire, for example, is not able to cling to vertical surfaces around the battery compartment, therefore providing no oxygen barrier. In addition, any film that forms on the horizontal surfaces of the battery in thermal runaway will be damaged by the residual heat. Likewise, the soapy film formed by wet chemical, when used to extinguish burning cooking oil, will suffer the same limitations as foam.
Powder has no cooling effect on Lithium-Ion battery fires, which burn at temperatures up to 1,000°C. The powder crust will only form on horizontal surfaces, not vertical, therefore no oxygen barrier is formed. The propagation of the fire due to continuing thermal runaway is unavoidable.
CO2 has a good cooling effect on the fire and will provide oxygen starvation while the CO2 is directed onto the fire, but as soon as the CO2 is removed, the continuation of thermal runaway will reignite the fire.
The Effective Solution
The Lith-Ex extinguishers are ideally suited for Lithium-ion based battery fires. The Lith-Ex Extinguisher is compact, lightweight, easy to store, non-toxic and environmentally friendly. It will extinguish uncontrollable flames, quickly cool the excessive heat and prevent re-ignition, something that an ABC powder extinguisher or other liquid-based extinguishers will not be able to do on a Lithium-ion battery fire.
For more information on our safety products visit: www.firechiefglobal.com; to speak to our team, call: 0330 999 0019
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