The terrible tragedy of the fire at Grenfell Tower has once again highlighted the importance of fire prevention design and products in our buildings, both private and public.
My particular interest in this field is in fire doors. A correctly fitted and functioning fire door can help to suppress a fire by restricting the amount of oxygen available to it and will restrict the spread of fire – a closed fire-resisting door is designed to endure direct attack by fire for a specified period of time. This should slow and check the spread of fire through the building, gaining time for active fire protection resources to perform. It will also protect escape and continue to provide some protection for fire fighters entering the building.
In the immediate aftermath of the blaze, it has been reported that literally hundreds of fire doors are missing from tower blocks evacuated as a safety precaution in Camden alone.(http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/hundreds-of-fire-doors-were-missing-from-tower-blocks-evacuated-in-camden-a3573551.html). To be honest this doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Too often I see examples of fire doors which are either inappropriate or not fit for purpose, often as a result of lowest tender purchasing policies but often as a consequence of ignorance. And that doesn’t include the fire doors that are wedged and propped open that I see regularly on my travels.
It seems that the lessons of the last major fire in a social housing setting in London at Lakanal House in 2009 have not been learned. In that case – where six people tragically died in a blaze in a 14-story block – missing, faulty, ineffective and propped-open fire doors played a major role in the spread of the fire https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/feb/28/southwark-council-fined-570000-over-fatal-tower-block-fire
It seems that the lessons of the last major fire in a social housing setting in London at Lakanal House in 2009 have not been learned.
After the trial of Southwark Council in the aftermath of the Lakanal House fire, Dan Daly, LFB’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “All landlords, including large housing providers, such as councils and housing associations, have a clear responsibility under the law that their premises meet all fire safety requirements and are effectively maintained to provide protection in the event of a fire and keep their residents safe. We want them to take the opportunity provided by this court case to remind themselves of exactly what their fire safety responsibilities are under the law and to ensure that everyone in their premises is safe from the risk of fire.”
Since 2006, responsibility for maintaining fire and escape doors has been placed firmly with the building owners and operators since the introduction of the RRO (Regulatory Reform Order) which came into effect in October of that year. The RRO – which applies to England and Wales – covers the fire safety duties required to protect the “relevant person” – visitors, residents, staff etc. Building owners must show that they have carried out a risk assessment on their premises – and this includes ensuring that fire and escape doors have been specced and fitted correctly and, importantly, appropriately maintained. They must also be able to produce the documentation to show that the products are suitable for their application, proving that all parties have exercised due diligence in fulfilling their duty of care.
As the enquiries into this terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower progress, the role that fire doors did or did not play in the fire will doubtless emerge and the importance of correctly specified, installed and maintained fire doors in saving lives will, without question, once more become apparent.