As a direct result of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, Sheffield Council have taken the decision to retrofit all 24 council tower blocks in Sheffield with sprinkler systems. Another 16 council tower blocks in Stoke-on-Trent are also having sprinklers fitted. The Stoke project had been planned since January, but the Grenfell Tower incident has made the plans even more significant. Birmingham council are also fitting all of their 213 tower blocks with sprinkler systems as a matter of urgency.
It is such a terrible tragedy that it has taken the horrific Grenfell Tower fire to bring about a serious review of fire safety in similar high-rise social housing blocks. Fire safety checks are now underway in around 600 high-rise buildings throughout the UK. So far sixty high-rise blocks have failed fire risk tests.
Controversial cladding is being blamed for the rapid spread of the Grenfell Tower fire. While the type of building materials being used to insulate and improve the appearance of buildings needs immediate review, the effectiveness of sprinkler systems in preventing the spread of fire also needs serious consideration.
A sprinkler system is one of the most effective tools available to prevent the spread of fire in tall buildings. Regulations in England mean that only buildings constructed since 2007, and which are taller than 30m (18m in Scotland) are required by law to have sprinklers fitted. There is no legal requirement for older high-rise buildings to have them retrofitted, as was the tragic case for Grenfell Tower, constructed in 1974. It is worth noting that the majority of high-rise social housing blocks were built between 1950 and 1970, so very few have fire sprinkler systems installed.
We know that it may be of little comfort to the families and friends of the Grenfell Tower community grieving such a devastating loss, but moving forward we have a duty as a society to make sure such an incident never happens again. We are hopeful that the retrofitting of fire sprinklers in high-rise residential buildings will finally get the attention it deserves.
The Callow Mount sprinkler retrofit project
In 2011 we were proud to supply the Callow Mount Retrofit project in Sheffield with our sprinkler valve sets. The Safer High-rise Living project at Callow Mount was sponsored by the sprinkler industry through the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA). It was a pilot project to illustrate the cost-effectiveness of retrofitting fire sprinklers in high-rise social housing. The project successfully demonstrated that it is both cost-effective and practical to retrofit fire sprinklers in occupied, high-rise social housing blocks without disturbing residents.
The project resulted in the retrofitting of a fully comprehensive sprinkler system in the 13-storey 1960s high-rise residential block, consisting of 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. The project proved that retrofitting fire sprinklers in high-rise residential social housing such as Callow Mount is not only economically viable, but the work can be carried out with the tenants still in residence.
Notwithstanding the terrible loss of life resulting from the Grenfell Tower fire, the ultimate social and financial cost of the damage is inconceivable. By comparison, the financial cost for the installation of fire sprinklers pales into insignificance. There is compelling evidence to prove that fire sprinklers in residential medium and high-rise blocks not only save lives, they contribute greatly to minimising the damage caused by fire.
Again we wish the families and friends of the Grenfell Tower community our heartfelt sympathy. We will continue to support BAFSA in their mission to get fire sprinklers installed in every single high-rise building, so that nothing like this can happen ever again.