Why Local Authorities should never make Fire Maintenance Assumptions

Following the Grenfell tower fire disaster last year, local authorities are now looking more closely their fire safety policies. There has been a realisation my many local authorities that their fire safety policies are based on assumptions that all properties, both social, commercial and private will have a certain level of adequate fire protection in force within their buildings.

Not only has the fire at Grenfell highlighted these concerns, but following the latest issues with the heating systems affecting the award-winning Alexandra estate, certain assumptions are now being questioned by more local authorities with regard to their policies.

Policy procedures based on assumptions

Looking back at the guidance that was given to residents at Grenfell at the time of the fire breakout where they were told to stay put in their homes instead of being evacuated, there is an argument that the firefighters were following policy procedures that were set on building regulations and fire safety measures that were assumed to have been put in place during the tower block refurbishment.

It is sad to say that their assumptions were in fact wrong. The use of inflammable exterior cladding was a very widely talked about probable cause for the fire spreading so rapidly across all media outlets, but as well as this the lack of a functioning fire alarm system and sprinkler system also helped to contribute to the tragedy where so many lives were needlessly lost.

Architectural design assumptions

Looking at the Alexandra estate, despite Neave Brown, the architect, winning the RIBA gold medal for his social housing design, there were assumptions made that the one single pipe that supplied all the residents with hot water would be well maintained. This has obviously not been the case and the residents have suffered from issues for many years due to poor maintenance, mostly as a result of years of government inflicted budget cuts.

For current Alexandra residents, the council have now agreed with tenants that they are going to break up the single pipe line with sub-stations that will mean more efficient repairs can be carried out. This also shows that architects should never base their designs on assumptions that local authorities will be left with the responsibility of maintaining a crucial element within their structure.

What these two very glaring issues help to highlight is that all local government policy makers, across the whole of the country, should never make decisions made on assumptions. Not all buildings will be compliant with the latest fire safety regulations, and those that are under refurbishment or are having modifications made to their structure should never be assumed to have installed new or upgraded alarm systems, or even have complete and fully functional fire safety protection.

This is why it is vitally important that business owners, commercial premises owners, landlords and care home operators have a plan in place for regular fire alarm maintenance to ensure it’s effectiveness, and base their fire safety policies for evacuation around their fire safety system.