Tuesday, June 20, 2017

More on the London Fire

I think it was 2009 when power was cut to our building because a bushfire burned through a major electricity cable somewhere in the state. I was stuck in a lift with a famous bearded media person's then wife and a building cleaner. Famous bearded media person is now a politician. I subsequently learnt that the lift emergency lighting should have lasted for twenty minutes. The lighting did last in the other lift, but our lift lighting went off after a couple of minutes. This raises the question, can we trust people who maintain safety systems? Scarily, I think not.

British Prime Minister May has announced an enquiry into the fire. There is no need. It is obvious as to what happened, and it was serious lack of care and negligence by the local council, underlined by poor government regulation and poor inspection standards .

I have read enough to make a conclusion that in Britain, well some parts of it, the fire regulations are quite unique. That is, do not evacuate when there is a fire. Each flat is self contained, insulated from fire in another flat. In the case of this Grenfell Tower fire, there was only one stair set and firefighters did not want to be blocked as they attend a fire by residents streaming down the stairs and out of the building. Remember, each flat is fire protected from a fire in another flat.

But what seems to have happened in the recent renovation of Grenfell Tower is that the individual boxing or isolation of individual flats was breached, extremely. Add to that, the installation of an outer covering with panels of aluminum on the outside and a flammable material between the panels, it ending up being a recipe for disaster.

These panels put on buildings in renovations are used to improve the building's insulation. At times panels are attached directly to the building, which can cause mould and damp issues, and at times there is an air gap.

I suggest that any old high rise building that undergoes a major renovation should have a sprinkler and stair positive air pressure system, at the very least. Sprinklers cost and they can be ugly when retrofitted, but at least you don't die.

The panels that clad Grenfell Towers were two sheets of aluminium with an synthetic insulating material in between the sheets. The synthetic material was not fire resistant. In cold climates is a cheaper way of insulating buildings. Here in Australia where we don't need such insulation from the cold. It is used for aesthetic/cheap/developer profits purposes.

Now you tell me if I am not talking commonsense. How on earth around the whole world are the exteriors of tall buildings allowed to be clad with a combustible material that can race flames up the exteriors of a building in minutes???

In my city, we have seen a non fatal example of the problem. In Britain, we see a very fatal result.

Around the world of big business has been let off the leash and indulged in such poor construction and renovation in the guise of a reduction of red tape for capitalism. There was a time when strict regulation was needed and required. Yet even back in the 70s, buildings like Grenfell Towers were built without sprinkler systems when it was very obvious that sprinklers were being installed in some buildings.

Not that Australia can be holier than thou, but what happened in London is a disgrace. Sixty people dead? One hundred dead? It is a moot point. That the block went up like a bonfire is damning to all levels of government and the building trade involved.

Britain knows well the dangers of fire. The Great London Fire in the 1600s. Bradford stadium fire....so many dead. The Kings Cross Station escalator fire, again so many dead. It is a criminal disgrace and well have the police launched a criminal investigation.

26 comments:

  1. Yes.
    Cutting red tape is too often an excuse to skimp on safety measures, increase profits, and risk lives.
    So not worth it.

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    1. EC, there used to be building inspectors of buildings, new and post renovation. How did that all go wrong?

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  2. Most hospital wards no not evacuate unless the fire is on our own area

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    1. John, the practicality of evacuating a hospital would preclude that normally. The policy of fire contained to an area seems quite sound, but only if the building is sound and properly designed to do that.

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  3. That fire only reinforces my resolution to never live above the fourth floor and to never spend the night in a hotel where my room would be above the fourth floor! Also, I will never shelter in place if the building is on fire! There were people on the top floor who lived because they immediately left the building, even helping an elderly person down the stairs. Maybe everyone should have one of those ropes attached inside their apartment to throw out the window to climb down. Well, I could not hold onto that!

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    1. PP, cool name! I don't blame you for your caution. You point about people leaving is sound. It is not the way things should work in England but since the whole system failed these people, it was a wise thing to do.

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  4. Andrew, I think I'd be a little unsettled if forced to live a 'Highriser' life.
    Even here at home in a North London house with 8 Flats, one is always relying on all the other tenants to act sensibly and not put the other tenants lives in danger.
    Each flat has a smoke detector as well as a Fire heat detector linked to a panel board in the hallway.
    But yes, that insulation material used on the outside of Grenfell Tower is apparently illegal in the U.S. Just exactly who is the singular person that sanctioned it's use? No doubt their identity is being protected.
    Interestingly the media circus seems to have died down in West London now that we had another incident in Finsbury Park last night.

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    1. Dee, what you have should be the bare minimum for a place your size and I assume there are fixed fire hoses too. With a little more knowledge now it seems that material is banned in England too.

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  5. Dreadful fire and lives lost because of criminal carelessness.
    Your article explains heaps to me - thanks for that.

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    1. Thanks Margaret. It really is criminal negligence, at the least.

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  6. This is just too horrifying to think about. The world used to be "going to hell in a handbasket", now it's on the express elevator :(

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    1. River, interesting remark because they would have all been wiser go against safety advice as soon as there was a hint of fire and get to the ground using the lift.

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  7. When such renovations are undertaken, VERY specific details are issued when inviting tenders from tradesmen. It is therefore entirely up to the council who prepared the specifications for the cladding of Grenfell Tower to take the blame. The contractor simply completed the work he was being paid to do.

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    1. Cro, well yes and no, and we don't know. There is no reason to believe that if the council specifications were correct, that they were followed. Corruption happens around the world where builders use cheaper substitutes, order thinner steel than what is specified.....all sorts of areas. Hopefully not too much in Western countries but it would be naive to think it doesn't happen. As it stands, like here where there was a similar fire, and no one is saying it was illegal, but the wrong fire specification material was used both here and at Grenfell Towers and here it was a deliberate decision. Given that I live in a highrise building, I take a great interest in such things. It also seem the building with each of its flats being a highly fire resistant box, this was breached leaving it like a piece of Swiss cheese. New gas pipes not covered in the appropriate fire insulating material? These are such basic things and something has gone seriously wrong, perhaps a combination of a failure at council level and poor, if not cheating tradespeople. Incorruptible building inspectors are the best way to deal with the future.

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    2. Incorruptible officials: there's a dream :(

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    3. Cost-cutting happens everywhere; I probably do it myself on occasions.

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  8. I am with you totally. The Great London Fire in the 1600s was an absolute tragedy, but at least that metropolis _never_ allowed wooden buildings again. They learned VERY quickly to build in stone etc. Let's see if London (and everywhere else) learns a lesson from this week's tragedy.

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    1. Hels, I hope the dead and injured can in future take comfort from that their deaths and injuries were not in vain, but led to great changes.

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  9. Excellent piece, Andrew.

    But Cro, you are kidding, surely! You are telling us that those workers are either all completely stupid or utterly devoid of consience? Because they HAD to know that what they were doing was unsafe. Saying otherwise is getting awfully close to all those chappies who claimed they were just doing what the Fuehrer told them to do without ever knowing just what it was they were doing.

    So no, I don't buy your argument. Not for a second.

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    1. Rozzie............I agree if that is the case. 'My boss just told me', will not stand. However, I would not want any tradesperson to be the victim of a witch hunt.

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  10. Safety does matter any more it's all about profits and until the people who created this mess are held responsible and charged with manslaughter because that is what it is, heads should roll but will they.
    Merle..........

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    1. Merle, indeed, will heads roll? They need to. Rules and regulations, along with enforcement need to be strong to prevent the excesses of capitalism.

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  11. Andrew terrible situation

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  12. Hear hear Andrew, I agree with all you say. There is no excuse for taking shortcuts or price saving measures when lives are involved!

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    1. Grace, and I conclude that is exactly what happened, but no matter, they were mostly recent immigrants.

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