Grenfell Tower Inquiry: Phase 1 Report

Summary of Recommendations for Property Managers

Phil Jones, Technical Director

 

Background

Cause and Origin

It has now been established that the fire was started by an electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer in the kitchen of Flat 16.

The fire is most likely to have entered the cladding as a result of hot smoke impinging on the uPVC window jamb, causing it to deform and collapse and thereby provide an opening into the cavity between the insulation and the ACM cladding panels through which flames and hot gases could pass. It is, however, possible (but less likely) that flames from the fire in the fridge-freezer passed through the open kitchen window and impinged on the ACM cladding panels above.

 

Fire Development

Once the fire had escaped from Flat 16, it spread rapidly up the east face of the tower. It then spread around the top of the building in both directions and down the sides until the advancing flame fronts converged on the west face near the south-west corner, enveloping the entire building in under three hours.

The principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building was the presence of the aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen panels with polyethylene cores, which acted as a source of fuel. The principal mechanism for the spread of the fire horizontally and downwards was the melting and dripping of burning polyethylene from the crown and from the spandrel and column panels, which ignited fires lower down the building. Those fires then travelled back up the building, thereby allowing the flame front to progress diagonally across each face of the tower.

The presence of polyisocyanurate (PIR) and phenolic foam insulation boards behind the ACM panels, and perhaps components of the window surrounds, contributed to the rate and extent of vertical flame spread.

 

Loss Of Compartmentation

The fire on the outside of the building quickly entered many flats and smoke spread rapidly through the interior of the building. As a result, effective compartmentation was lost at an early stage. Compartmentation failed because:

  • the intensity of the heat was such that the glass in the windows inevitably failed, allowing the fire to penetrate flats;
  • extractor fan units in the kitchens had a propensity to deform and become dislodged, providing a point of entry;
  • a number of key fire protection measures inside the tower failed. Although some fire doors held back the smoke, others did not. Some were left open and failed to close because they lacked effective self-closing devices; others were broken down by firefighters or wedged open with firefighting equipment.

 

Report Recommendations

1.                Use of Combustible Materials

Panels with polyethylene cores on the exterior of high-rise buildings be removed as soon as possible and replaced with materials of limited combustibility.

 

2.                Knowledge of Materials  – Fire & Rescue Service

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to provide their local fire and rescue service with information about the design of its external walls together with details of the materials of which they are constructed and to inform the fire and rescue service of any material changes made to them.

3.                Plans

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law:

  1. to provide their local fire and rescue services with up-to-date plans in both paper and electronic form of every floor of the building identifying the location of key fire safety systems;
  2. to ensure that the building contains a premises information box, the contents of which must include a copy of the up-to-date floor plans and information about the nature of any lift intended for use by the fire and rescue services.

 

4.                Lifts

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular inspections of any lifts that are designed to be used by firefighters in an emergency and to report the results of such inspections to their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals.

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to carry out regular tests of the mechanism which allows firefighters to take control of the lifts and to inform their local fire and rescue service at monthly intervals that they have done so.

 

5.                Evacuation

The government develop national guidelines for carrying out partial or total evacuations of high-rise residential buildings, such guidelines to include the means of protecting fire exit routes and procedures for evacuating persons who are unable to use the stairs in an emergency, or who may require assistance (such as disabled people, older people and young children).

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to draw up and keep under regular review evacuation plans, copies of which are to be provided in electronic and paper form to their local fire and rescue service and placed in an information box on the premises.

All high-rise residential buildings (both those already in existence and those built in the future) be equipped with facilities for use by the fire and rescue services enabling them to send an evacuation signal to the whole or a selected part of the building by means of sounders or similar devices.

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to prepare personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for all residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised (such as persons with reduced mobility or cognition).

The owner and manager of every high-rise residential building be required by law to include up-to-date information about persons with reduced mobility and their associated PEEPs in the premises information box.

 

6.                Internal Signage

In all high-rise buildings floor numbers be clearly marked on each landing within the stairways and in a prominent place in all lobbies in such a way as to be visible both in normal conditions and in low lighting or smoky conditions.

The owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not it is a high-rise building) be required by law to provide fire safety instructions (including instructions for evacuation) in a form that the occupants of the building can reasonably be expected to understand, taking into account the nature of the building and their knowledge of the occupants.

 

7.                Fire Doors

The owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) carry out an urgent inspection of all fire doors to ensure that they comply with applicable legislative standards.

The owner and manager of every residential building containing separate dwellings (whether or not they are high-rise buildings) be required by law to carry out checks at not less than three-monthly intervals to ensure that all fire doors are fitted with effective self-closing devices in working order.

All those who have responsibility in whatever capacity for the condition of the entrance doors to individual flats in high-rise residential buildings, whose external walls incorporate unsafe cladding, be required by law to ensure that such doors comply with current standards.

 

Quantum Compliance’s Opinion On These Recommendations

RecommendationsQuantum’s Opinion
Use of Combustible Materials

 

This is a complex process requiring the involvement of Property Owners, Property Managers, leaseholders and insurers.  All parties should maintain their focus and take the lead on ensuring combustible cladding is removed as soon as possible.

 

Knowledge of Materials

 

This information should be made available and updated routinely.  (This would form part of the property Fire Management Plan*).

 

Plans

 

Fire Plans have always been regarded as important in understanding and reviewing property fire safety emergency arrangements. Clear Fire Plans should be made available and updated routinely.  (This would form part of the property Fire Management Plan*).

 

Lifts

 

These testing and maintenance arrangements should already be in place and should now be included in the annual fire risk assessment.

 

Evacuation

 

The effective communication of emergency procedures was included in the Hackitt Report (Building a Safer Future – Independent Review of Building Regulations and Fire Safety: Final Report).  Property Managers should ensure their current arrangements are robust and that their chosen methods of communicating with residents remain effective.

 

With regards to the provision of Fire Information Boxes, this is relevantly common in high rise office buildings, so providing them in high risk blocks of flats should be encouraged.

 

Internal Signage

 

Property Managers should ensure that floor numbers be clearly marked on each landing within the stairways and in a prominent place in all lobbies. This should now be included in the annual fire risk assessment.

 

Fire Doors

 

There has been an historic debate concerning the Property Managers’ responsibilities relating to flat entrance doors which would normally fall under the leaseholders’ responsibility.   However, it is clear that robust inspection regimes covering flat entrance doors and communal fire doors are introduced and maintained. Furthermore, it is also necessary for as many flat entrance doors to be inspected as part of the annual fire risk assessment process.

 

NOTE:

Other matters which have not been listed above, will fall under the remit of the Phase 2 report, including: Testing and Certification of Materials and Sprinkler Systems.  Furthermore, the other recommendations relate to the Fire and Rescue Services fall outside of the scope of this Briefing.

* Fire Management Plans.  For further information on how Quantum Compliance can help you with your current and future fire management arrangements, please access:

 

https://www.qcompliance.co.uk/services/service-specifications/