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    Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in a tower block at Latimer Road in West London, Britain June 14, 2017

    On Second Anniversary of Grenfell Fire, Are Any Tower Blocks Really Safe From Fire?

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    In 2001, after thousands of people died in the Twin Towers attacks in New York, there was widespread concern about whether skyscrapers were death traps. So has anyone come up with a solution?

    Friday, 14 June, marks the second anniversary of the dreadful fire at Grenfell Tower in west London.

    ​The blaze claimed the lives of 72 people and another 70 were injured and in the intervening 24 months there has been an avalanche of questions about what went wrong and whether the building’s design was to blame.

    Although the cause of the fire was accidental - a blaze spread from a faulty fridge in a fourth floor apartment - the Metropolitan Police launched a criminal investigation into the events leading up to the fire and said recently it had interviewed 13 individuals under caution.

    ​Scotland Yard did not say who had been interviewed and said it would probably not be until 2021 before they handed a file to the Crown Prosecution Service for them to consider whether to prosecute individuals or companies.

    Commander Stuart Cundy said on Friday: "Two years on from the devastating tragedy at Grenfell Tower, the thoughts of us all in the Met remain with those who died, their loved ones and those who survived the fire that night. We can only imagine how difficult this time of year is for those affected and the wider community; they continue to inspire us with their resilience and spirit. The police investigation continues with officers and staff working day in day out, with the bereaved families and survivors remaining at the heart of what we do."

    Earlier this week it emerged 100 Grenfell survivors and relatives of the dead were suing three firms they blamed for the fire - cladding manufacturer Arconic, insulation maker Celotex and fridge supplier Whirlpool.

    The new exterior cladding and insulation was installed in 2016 as part of a £10m refit of the tower but when the fire broke out in June 2017 the flames spread up the outside of the building, defeating the compartmentation theory which the London Fire Brigade - and firefighters around the world - rely on.

    ​Compartmentation is the belief that a fire will not spread beyond the immediate floor it is on because of fire doors and other safety devices, allowing firefighters the time to bring the blaze under control.

    At the public inquiry into the Grenfell fire the fire brigade was heavily criticised for failing to make any preparations for how to tackle a fire in which compartmentation had failed and for not abandoning its advice to residents - to stay in their flats - earlier.

    Danny Friedman QC, who represented survivors and the bereaved, said: "What can be undoubtedly concluded by 2017 is that the LFB was aware of the prospect of a high-rise fires involving breach of compartmentation as a risk to life to be prepared for, including specifically as a result of flammable facades."

    ​The fire broke out around 00.54am and although the fire rapidly swept up the side of the tower and soon consumed the entire building it was not until 2.47am that the lead firefighter decided to abandon the advice to “stay put” and advise people to evacuate - only 36 people got out of the building alive after that time.

    But the head of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, told the inquiry she would not change any part of the brigade’s response to the disaster.

    While the arguments go on about whether mistakes were made in tackling the Grenfell blaze, the question remains “Is there any way of making a high rise building truly safe from fire?”

    ​Many high rise buildings in Britain still have not had flammable cladding removed and hundreds of tower blocks have not been retrofitted with sprinklers because of the prohibitive cost for hard-pressed local councils.

    The danger of fire in high rise buildings has been known for years but the world was reminded of it in shocking style in 2001 when al-Qaeda jihadists hijacked two US airliners and flew them into the Twin Towers in New York.

    Hundreds of people in the World Trade Center were killed immediately by the impact and explosion but thousands more who worked above the 75th floor of the South Tower or the 93rd storey of the North Tower were trapped by intense heat and smoke.

    Several architects and civil engineers proposed escape chute systems and today there are many companies in the US who provide these evacuation chutes although they rarely go beyond 120 metres, which is roughly 40 storeys.

    One World Trade Center, which was erected to replace the Twin Towers and opened in 2014 has 104 storeys and the top floor is 386 metres up.

    In the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire it was suggested that when high rise buildings were built they were linked by bridges or walkways, such as those between the Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

    Russ Timpson, a former firefighter and head of safety for Virgin Atlantic Airways, told the Daily Telegraph: “We are not keeping up as a fire community with the tall buildings that are being built and it’s not an issue until something dreadful happens.”

    Most high rise buildings are designed with fire escape stairwells and people are advised not to use lifts in the event of a blaze.

    But Peter Summer, a lift design engineer from WSP-Parsons Brinckerhoff consultants, said this advice needed to be changed in buildings where lift shafts were properly fireproofed.

    ​He told the Telegraph: “We all know with tall buildings that we have to use lifts to evacuate. The whole strategy of how we get people out of a building has to be considered at the stage of designing that building.” 

    The only other way to escape from a blazing high rise is by helicopter.

    On 21 November 1980 around 5,000 guests were staying at the MGM Grand hotel and casino complex on The Strip in Las Vegas when a fire broke out.

    The fire department's ladders were unable to reach the top floors and 87 people were to die, mainly from smoke inhalation.

    But nine air force helicopters were able to rescue dozens of people from the roof of the hotel, which was later sold and renamed Bally's casino, which it remains to this day.

    Tags:
    United States, United Kingdom, 9/11, skyscrapers, deaths, fire, Grenfell Tower
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