Industrial Fire Journal - Fire & Rescue - Hemming Group Ltd
Grenfell Tower tragedy
Published:  14 June, 2017

The high-rise building that was engulfed by fire in the early hours of today (14 June) had not been fitted with sprinklers during a major refurbishment project completed in 2016.

The death toll of the incident currently stands at six but is expected to rise; 70 people have been treated in hospital and 20 are said to be in critical condition.

Around 250 firefighters and 40 fire engines responded to the fire reported at 00.54 today at Grenfell Tower near Notting Hill in north Kensington, London.

Up to 600 people are believed to have been inside the building when the fire broke out in one of the lower floors. Only an hour and a half after the arrival of the fire brigade, the fire had spread to the upper floors with flames engulfing the 24-storey building.

While some residents managed to evacuate the building, many were trapped and shouting for help. Local reports cite incidences of children being thrown out of windows as well as desperate residents jumping from upper floors with one even using a waste disposal bag as a makeshift parachute.

Firefighters were still trying to put out the fire this afternoon and according to London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton they would be on scene for at least another 24 hours.

At the time that Grenfell Tower was built in 1974 there were no requirements for sprinklers to be fitted in high-rise apartment buildings in the UK.

Since 2007 sprinklers have been required in England in all new-high rise buildings higher than 30m; in Scotland the height threshold is 18m; in Wales all new apartment buildings and houses are required to have sprinklers.

According to an estimate from the European Fire Sprinkler network, installing sprinklers in Grenfell Tower would have represented around 2% of the £10-million (US$13-million) refurbishment project, or £0.2 million (US$0.3 million).

The project, which was carried out by Rydon Construction last year, included new exterior cladding, installation of double-glazed windows and a communal heating system; the lower four floors were also remodelled to create nine additional homes.

At this stage it is not known what caused the fire nor whether the new external cladding was a factor. When fire stops are installed correctly at each floor level and window, flames are not able to penetrate through the cavities behind the panels. Some fire industry insiders have questioned how the fire and smoke was able to propagate so quickly throughout the building.

Residents of Grenfell Tower raised fire safety concerns four years ago, warning that fire safety equipment had not been tested for 12 months, and that some of the equipment had been condemned and not tested since 2009.

The tower is managed by Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation on behalf of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

A spokesperson of the European Fire Sprinkler Network commented: “At this stage we cannot be certain how the fire started. Reports suggest it began in an apartment on the fourth floor. If that is correct, it is highly likely that a sprinkler system would have prevented the fire from developing as it did.

“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.”

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, said: "There will be a great many questions over the coming days as to the cause of this tragedy and I want to reassure Londoners that we will get all the answers."

Grenfell Tower in 2009.