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The Chartered Institute of Housing is the independent voice for housing and the home of professional standards

New Housing Professional 2018 finalist blog: Katie Hill


Katie Hill from Seraph Property Management gives her reflections from a session on fire safety in high-rise buildings at TAI 2018 as part of our New Housing Professional competition.

Following the Grenfell Tower disaster fire safety discussions have certainly increased. Mark Watt heads up the High Rise Living Team for South Wales Fire and Rescue Service. He explains his frustration with the delayed release of the Hackitt Review and required changes to legislation.

Mark was clearly frustrated in the time it takes legislation to change and this is jeopardising fire safety. His major concern is, does the fire safety order at present actually work? There are many grey areas which makes it difficult for housing professionals who are trying to follow such legislation.

The Grenfell Tower disaster is one which we are all aware of, there are many ideas presented by the media giving examples of what may have happened in the event. Mark explained in his 33 years service he has certainly never seen a building behave in this way, this is something that has been said by many fire officials. Unfortunately it’s a horrendous picture we will remember for generations. Although no definitive evidence has been published, breaches with the compartmentation of the building will play a part. This is clear from the speed the fire spread. Policies are built on fire fighting from inside a building, hence the requirements for 30minute fire doors and compartmentation. These allow time for the fire to be fought from inside the building and to minimise the spread of fire. Although this is a policy, it is of course difficult to have the same expectations to work 23-24 floors up.

What can we do in the interim?

• Compartmentation of a building in simple terms is small boxes inside a larger box. Issues arise when modern needs force the building to change. As an example, internet or TV services drilled through the building, often without thought of jeopardising the compartmentation. If left unsealed by the appropriate fire stop this can cause a fire to spread. If letterboxes without fire protection are installed into flat doors by residents this will breach the 30minute fire stopping which the fire door would provide. The Fire Risk Assessment (FRA) would check these items however it is important that any changes are monitored.

• Not all cladding is a problem but it should be fully investigated and checked to ensure cavity barriers are in place.

• Check who is completing FRA’s. Check their qualifications. There are many who complete them with basic training and this can lead to errors.

• Check those who maintain the fire fighting facilities such as dry and wet risers are qualified to do so and are carrying out the checks correctly.

• Be aware of who is in your building, are there disabled or unable people? How would they get out of the building if an evacuation was required? Are hoarders in your building?

As we have control over the buildings which our residents live in, we are deemed responsible for maintaining the fire safety inside the apartment. Unfortunately many managers of any building will understand that this is not always straightforward, especially in cases like myself managing leasehold blocks. There are many areas of change required to allow for a more concise legislation without grey areas to ensure the property industry as a whole are on the same page. Fire safety in an incredibly important part of housing and we are all striving to achieve the same goal, to ensure our residents are safe.

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