At Applications Engineering we were shocked and saddened by the devastating and tragic events of the Grenfell Tower Fire. Our hearts and thoughts go out to the friends and families of the Grenfell Tower Community and the emergency services who were involved in fighting the fire and are now dealing with the horrendous aftermath.
Many people in the fire safety industry are asking questions about how such a catastrophic incident could have happened. Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 when fire sprinklers were not required in high-rise apartment buildings in the UK. Since 2007, all high-rise apartment buildings reaching more than 30 metres have had to fit fire sprinklers.
Questions are also being asked about the quality of the building materials used in the recent refurbishment of the tower, with particular reference to the external cladding. While it is still unclear how the fire started, it is highly likely that a sprinkler system would have prevented such a rapid spread of fire throughout the tower.
As reported by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, Alan Brinson of the European Fire Sprinkler Network has this to say: ”This fire is similar to The Address fire in Dubai on New Year’s Eve 2016. The difference is that building had sprinklers and nobody was killed.”
The 27-storey Grenfell Tower was refurbished at a cost of £10 million in 2014/2015, but there was no requirement to fit sprinklers at the same time. The added cost to do so would have been about £200,000. Following a fire in Lakanal House tower block in Camberwell, London in 2009 in which 6 people were killed and 20 people were injured, serious questions were asked then about the benefits of automatic fire sprinklers (Lakanal House, like Grenfell Tower, also had no fire sprinklers).
Following an investigation into the Lakanal House fire in 2009, a Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) report suggested that retrofitting fire sprinklers to such buildings would not be cost-effective or practicable. However, the Safer High-rise Living Sprinkler Retrofit project at Callow Mount, Sheffield suggested otherwise.
The Callow Mount project, sponsored by the sprinkler industry through the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association, was undertaken in September 2011. The project resulted in the retrofitting of a fully comprehensive sprinkler system in a 1960s high-rise residential block, 13 storeys high with 47 flats. The cost per flat was £1,148, with an annual maintenance cost of £250 (based on 2011 prices). The annual cost per flat based on a 30-year lifetime equates to between £40 and £50 per year, per flat.
This is such a small price to pay to protect human lives, and we will continue to campaign for the efficacy of fire sprinklers in helping to protect lives. We sincerely hope the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower leads to a serious review of the safety of high-rise living and results in the immediate fitting of sprinkler systems to other similar high-rise apartment buildings throughout the UK.