What went wrong at Grenfell?

While a number of fires in the Gauteng region have held the headlines over the past few months, the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower tragedy – which occurred on June 14 in West London, United Kingdom (UK) – has been concluded.

The inquiry, reports James Beale, operations manager at Invicta Fire Protection, for IFSEC Global, revealed negligence in a number of areas, all of which combined to hinder rescue and escape attempts, and exacerbated the disaster, with the eventual loss of 72 lives.

It was revealed that none of the 120 fire doors to the flats – 106 of which were replaced not long before the fire – were compliant with regulations. In addition, fire doors onto the stairwells were also broadly non-compliant.

As well as the badly fitted fire doors, many corridors were apparently made narrower, with exposed gas mains and other obstructions jutting out from the walls. This would have exacerbated the issues of smoke and heat, and restricted the space for any evacuating residents.

The ventilation system in Grenfell Tower was designed to eliminate smoke from a single floor. It was useless on the night, as it did not work. The tower’s authority had contacted the manufacturer and received a quote for repairs six days before the fire, but it had not responded.

Much was made of the fact that fire alarms failed to sound in Grenfell Tower, leaving many residents to sleep through the period where they might have escaped the blaze. There was, however, a functioning central alarm system that alerted an external company charged with monitoring multiple high rises.

Grenfell Tower did not have any external fire escapes, although these would have been rendered useless by the cladding on the building, which caught fire. Further, modern building regulations dictate that a high-rise building should have more than one stairwell, which Grenfell didn’t.

The lifts in the tall building also failed to function properly, hampering the transport of equipment and firefighters, who can override their safety cut out if they feel their use is beneficial and safe.

By law, all high-rise buildings in the UK are required to have a “wet main” for firefighting (a series of pipes running up to the top floor with water actively circulating). Grenfell Tower only had a “dry main’, which required first responders to connect it to another water source.

It has also been mentioned that the lack of a sprinkler system was to blame for the scope of the fire. Sprinklers may not have helped once the fire had spread, but could have quelled the fire at source.

The deciding factor was the flammable cladding, which changed the circumstances of the fire quickly, and in a way in which nobody had any experience. The same can be said of the lack of fire drills, as evacuation would never be expected to happen.

There was a lack of preparedness among the first responders to the fire, and an absence of scrutiny over the faults with Grenfell’s fire protection.

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