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Fire safety Public housing
services pass through a compartment floor, the services
should either be contained within a protected shaft or
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adequately fire stopped at each level.
‘It is very important during any ongoing fire risk
assessment that the responsible person identifies
any deficiencies caused by poor fire stopping around
services.’
Surveyor Arnold Tarling argues that flawed
alterations to the original design of Lakanal House
‘removed the fire protection between flats’. He bases
his view on an inspection of sister block Marie Curie
House, which had been refurbished alongside Lakanal
House. According to an unofficial report handed to the
London Fire Brigade, Tarling says that fire-resistant
boards had not functioned properly because they
weren’t sealed; and boards used as firebreaks had been
smashed to make way for cabling.
That view is shared by Royal Institute of British
Architects Council member Sam Webb. He adds that
the work included a timber-framed false ceiling fitted
A firefighter tackles an
> enforcement notice can be issued. Many of these have
unknown blaze. Most
been issued in the wake of the Camberwell fire. If the
dwelling fires do not spread
The key issue is why the fire
risk of fire is found to be serious enough, a prohibition
beyond their room of origin
spread to other floors. That’s why
(see box, bottom right).
notice can be applied to shut down the building.
However, the ‘responsible person’ is unlikely to be
people died – Sam Webb
professionally trained in fire safety design, according to
James Crane, principal fire consultant at Hilson Moran 20 years ago in central corridors linking flats and
consulting engineers. He is concerned about the covered pipes from a new heating system.
expertise of third party assessors – some of whom are In effect, fire proofing between flats and the corridor
housing officers that have completed short courses. was compromised and this allowed the blaze to spread
‘Many are also ex-fire brigade people and, while there into the ceiling cavity, causing flashover, leading to a
is some guidance, there is not a national register with fireball. He says the cause of the fire is largely irrelevant:
specifically qualified professionals,’ says Crane. ‘The ‘The key issue is why it spread to other floors. That’s
responsible person is liable and not the third party, and why people died.’
this is an issue that directly affects building services Other experts say replacing open slats at the end
engineers.’ of every corridor – which was a standard feature to
Building services are central to any solution to allow smoke from a fire to escape – were replaced with
ensure other tower blocks do not repeat the tragedy, windows. This can mean people being fatally affected
says Peter Stephenson, principal fire safety engineer by smoke inhalation.
at Kingfell Consulting. They must not only comply Southwark council and the London Fire Brigade have
with Part L of the Building Regulations, but also with since inspected Marie Curie House to ensure that any >
Part B on fire safety.
Stephenson is clear about the fallout of the
Fires
Camberwell fire. ‘The severity of the fire has put the
focus on ensuring that there are adequate means of Official figures show that fires are generally
escape from high-rise buildings, there is sufficient fire confined to the room where they start.
compartmentation [where there is a fire barrier] within According the Department for Communities
buildings and there is an effective fire risk assessment and Local Government, during 2007 there were
in place,’ Stephenson says. 52,700 fires in dwellings such as houses, flats and
He adds that building services – such as cable, pipes, maisonettes.
ducts and other services that pass both vertically from A total of 443 people died after being involved in
floor to floor and horizontally within a floor area – form a fire and 331(75 per cent) of these deaths were the
an essential part of any building: ‘Wherever services result of dwelling fires.
breach any structural fire compartmentation, there is However, 87 per cent of dwelling fires were
the potential for uncontrolled fire spreading through confined to the room of fire origin. Of these
a building.’ fires, half did not spread beyond the item first
Stephenson says that to minimise this risk, the ignited while four per cent did not result in any
building regulations require certain measures to be ‘appreciable’ fire damage.
implemented within a building’s design: ‘Where
28 CIBSE Journal December 2009 www.cibsejournal.com
CIBSEdec09 pp26-28,30 fire.indd 28 19/11/09 16:24:47
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