Less than a year since fire door safety campaigners turned a spotlight on high rise tower blocks, the country wakes to news of the devastating inferno at Grenfell Tower, West London.
Hannah Mansell, chair of the Passive Fire Protection Forum, trustee of the Children’s Burns Trust and spokesperson for the BWF’s Fire Door Safety Week campaign, said:
“We have a right to be very angry at the news about Grenfell Tower. I regularly sit in meetings with fire safety professionals, and their fury and frustration at the inaction of local councils and social landlords is palpable. We have been warning about the risks of a fire like this for years. ‘What we need to get people to take notice is a huge fire in a tower block’ they say. Well, here it is.
There is an endemic fire safety problem in this type of housing stock. I have walked around tower blocks documenting and filming the fire safety breaches. I’ve seen flats without fire doors, no emergency lighting or signage on fire doors and escape routes, broken fire rated glass, wedged-open fire doors, poor fire stopping around service hatches that breach compartmentation, no smoke seals in fire doors, rubbish and combustible material left in the common areas, and no information displayed on the specific fire plan of the building.
But that information appears to fall on deaf ears. Action must be taken now to address these issues.
Our hearts go out to the residents of Grenfell Tower, their neighbours, friends and families, and the extraordinarily brave fire fighters and medics who are continuing to deal with the emergency. And to every local council and housing association I say, you know what to do, take action today. The next one could be tomorrow.”
Research for Fire Door Safety Week last year underlines some of the problems, in particular showing that the poorest in society continue to be at greatest risk from fire, with lower income tenants more concerned about fire safety where they live, less informed about how to protect themselves, and less able to move away from perceived danger.
Just a third (35%) of the lowest income households renting flats say they have been given information on the emergency fire plan for the building where they live, compared to 88% of tenants on incomes over £100,000 a year.
Those on incomes of £25,000 or less are much less likely to feel completely safe from fire (27%) than those on incomes above £80,000 (44%).
But two out of every nine (22%) households with incomes under £25,000 living in rented flats who have concerns over fire safety are unable to move because they can’t afford to.
More than half of all tenants (58%) and over 70% of lower income tenants have no idea who the ‘Responsible Person’ is for the building where they live – the person to whom they should usually report their fire safety concerns. And worryingly, 15% of all tenants living in blocks of flats who have got fire safety concerns have never reported those concerns to anyone at all.
The BWF has also carried out FOI research which suggests worrying problems in other London tower blocks.