On June 14, 2017 a catastrophic fire hit the Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London. According to the most recent news reports, 79 people are presumed dead following the fire that ripped through the 24 story tower that was built in 1967. The fire broke out in a kitchen then set the exterior of the building on fire and began to spread at a horrifying rate.
According to the reports by tenants of the building, the fire alarms did not go off and were only alerted by other tenants knocking on their doors alerting them of the ensuing flames. The residents were informed to “stay put” at the onset of the flames and that decision was reversed later on. By that time the flames had consumed the building.
From these reports, it appears that some of the casualties could have been prevented at the Grenfell Tower. Correct procedures were not put in place and uneven instructions by the building management may have had a part in the loss of life. So what is the correct response? The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) can give us guidance on what to do in order to prevent such issues in the event of a fire. You can read their action plan for High Rise & Condominium Safety here. Of significance in High Rise Apartment & Condominiums is
- Select a fully sprinklered buildings. If the building is not fully sprinklered ask the landlord or management to install a fully sprinklered system.
- Meet with your landlord or management company to learn about fire safety features in your building (fire alarms, sprinklers, voice communication systems for evacuation).
- Make sure all exit and stairwells are clearly marked, not locked or locked by security bars and clear of clutter.
- If there is a fire, pull the fire alarm on your way out to notify the fire department and your neighbors.
- If an announcement is made throughout the building, listen carefully and follow instructions.
The NFPA also has set up guidelines for other high rise buildings. Primarily set up for commercial buildings, some of the recommendations in the report named Guidelines to Developing Emergency Action Plans for All-Hazard Emergencies in High Rise Office Buildings can be of use in the residential setting as well. The NFPA states:
“With the increased recognition of the need to prepare and respond to non-fire threats such as extreme weather, workplace violence, and utility disruptions in the high-rise environment, the traditional building fire safety plan and organization are a logical starting point. In fact, the Advisory Committee members recommend that a single, integrated plan and preparedness and response organization be utilized to assist building management and emergency responders in an all-hazard approach to building emergencies.”
Their Emergency Action Plan (EAP) calls EAP procedures that occupants should follow in an emergency situation, an emergency evacuation, or a drill. Each EAP should have a procedure for total-building evacuation. Also what is required is for persons to have roles such as Fire and Life Safety Director and and Deputy in order for their to be a clear chain of command and leadership in the event of a catastrophic event.
The Grenfell Tower fire is a tragic event that may change how procedures are followed in the United Kingdom. Here in New York City, property management companies should be prepared to follow strict procedures to ensure the safety of our tenants as well as our landlord’s assets.