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Grenfell: London fire chief calls for urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’

Grenfell tower webcrop

London’s fire chief has called for urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’ alongside a review of the stay-put policy for residents during high-rise fires

Dany Cotton, the London Fire Commissioner, said yesterday (16 October) that a lack of clarity about which tower blocks were able to withstand blazes meant advice for residents to ‘stay put’ may no longer be viable.

Updating the London Assembly on the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) response to the Grenfell fire tragedy, Cotton said ministers should take action to reverse ‘more than 20 years of neglect’.

The LFB has been calling for changes to building regulations including for sprinklers to be fitted in more types of buildings, not just residential high-rises.

She said: ‘We know that fire spread to the top of Grenfell Tower in less than 30 minutes. Based on what we have learned since the fire, I am calling for urgent research on buildings that fail. We need such research because buildings that fail mean stay-put advice is no longer viable.’

Cotton’s call came as she delivered the London Fire Brigade’s interim report into how it has responded to the tragedy, which killed 72 people in June 2017.

The changes LFB has introduced include use of new equipment for high-rise fires such as drones, a restructuring of the management of its 999 control room and fire survival guidance refresher training for staff.

Cotton, who recently announced she was due to retire three years into her role, faced criticism during the first phase of the inquiry after she said she would not have changed anything about the LFB’s response on the night of the fire.

In her update yesterday, Cotton emphasised that the failures of the building were to blame. She said that since 2014 there had been more than 5,000 fires in London high rises and in the vast majority of these ‘stay-put’ advice had been effective.

She said: ’This building [Grenfell] was never designed or built for mass evacuation. It is completely understandable that stay-put advice has been questioned, but we are talking about buildings that fail, rather than advice that fails –and there is no clear alternative, which is why this research is needed.’

The LFB report comes just two weeks before the findings from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry are due to be published.


Readers' comments (7)

  • It will take more than sprinklers inside buildings to counter-act fires resulting from the reckless use of highly inflammable claddings systems such as was used at Grenfell.

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  • There is also the electrical wiring that needs to be closely regulated and the need for a BS update of what is termed a fire resisting cable is urgently needed. Wiring providing electricity to essential and emergency services requires a fireproof cable. Cables that will not burn, emit smoke or toxic fumes. Furthermore, in high rise buildings, these cables must have a two [2] hour fire rating. A metal sheath MICC type is paramount.

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  • Please note that the last comment was submitted by W G Williams. Fire Consultant.

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  • Industry Professional

    A key point made by her yesterday is that to establish if a building is a fire trap or is in fact relatively safe (for a high rise, residential building) is not easily established. It requires a thorough, probably almost intrusive survey. Comments made above seem to concur with this. Jeffrey (Civil Eng)

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  • We’ve tried this, it was called the Building Research Establishment (BRE), set up in the 1920s, it used to test all manner of things and materials, and write the building regulations. Then it was privatised in 1997, and became part of the problem rather than the solution. Pursuing commercial ends, giving fire certificates to flammable cladding, and advising government that there was no need to change the regs a year before Grenfell. I understand that it is now failing and made 100 scientists redundant this year.

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  • At one end of the scale bring back the good old BRE - and at the other end, clerks of works with teeth.
    And outside the scale, make politicians more accountable - should Eric Pickles really have been elevated to the House of Lords, following the Lakanal House horror?

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  • They had to elevate Lord Pickles because the House of Commons could no longer bear his weight...

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