Frequently Asked Questions following Grenfell Tower incident

Following the Grenfell Fire tragedy, Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham established the Greater Manchester High Rise Taskforce to ensure the safety of high rise residential buildings across the city-region.

To help answer the public’s questions and concerns about fire safety in high rise buildings, we have pulled together a number of frequently asked questions. These are regularly reviewed and updated.

If you have any concerns about the safety of your building you can email highrise@manchesterfire.gov.uk for more information or ring 0800 555815.

Has the GMFRS advice changed following this incident?

No, the approach adopted by GMFRS remains the same.

If you have a fire or become aware of a fire in your home, which includes flats, you should get out, stay out and call us out.

If you live in a block of flats where your landlord has advised you to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire, this is their advice which will be based on an individual fire risk assessment for that building.

It is your landlord or the building managers responsibility to advise residents about the fire safety arrangements for the building – if you are not sure about the arrangements for the building contact your Housing Officer or Managing Agent.

What happened at Grenfell Tower?

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is an independent public inquiry, has been set up to examine the circumstances leading up to and surrounding the fire at Grenfell Tower. You can keep up to date with the progress of the inquiry here.

In Greater Manchester, a High Rise Task Force led by Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett has been set up to provide fire safety reassurance, building by building, across Greater Manchester. The taskforce includes landlords of tower blocks across the city region in both private and public ownership, GMFRS as well as representatives from every local authority in Greater Manchester and other specialist officers who can offer support to ensure every high rise is safe and receives the right fire safety advice.

Find out more about the work of the Taskforce.

 

High-rise fire safety:
Why is there normally no common fire alarm throughout the building?

A common fire alarm system is designed to alert everyone within a building at the same time. Where a building is designed to support a ‘stay put’ approach the staircases haven’t normally been designed to support a simultaneous evacuation of the entire building. Alarm systems in these types of buildings are generally to open smoke ventilation systems in order to keep the common areas free of smoke for anyone who does need to leave the building and our own crews to gain access to fight a fire.

Each flat should have its own smoke alarm, which should alert the occupants of the affected flat in the event of fire occurring within that flat. This alarm will not normally be linked to any other area of the block.

There are other areas such as undercover car parks which may have detection and alarm system but again will not normally be linked to any other part of the block. Any detectors within the common corridors or staircases are likely to be there to activate any ventilation system but will not be designed to sound a warning.

What levels of fire resistance should be in between flats?

If correctly designed and maintained, individual flats should be separated from each other with materials that will resist fires for a minimum of 60 minutes. This is to allow sufficient time for the occupants of the affected flat to escape without other flats and escape routes becoming affected. This also means GMFRS can extinguish the fire in the flat where it occurs.

How do changes to a building over time affect firefighting and fire safety?

Fire Risk Assessments should identify issues like this, and what action needs to be taken. Following Grenfell, housing providers and the majority of building owners have carried out more detailed risk assessments.

GMFRS fire safety specialists have carried out compliance inspections of all high rise blocks, and fire crews have visited every high rise to check and update our Operational Information System [OIS] which holds information on the layout and access to a building in case of a fire.

Where issues with fire compartmentalisation have been identified, action is being taken to ensure remedial maintenance is being undertaken.

What is being done to ensure fire doors are safe and fit for purpose?

Fire doors are an important part of the fire safety measures in a building and are designed to hold back flames and smoke for 30 to 60 minutes.

Housing providers should regularly check on fire doors and if there is any damage or wear and tear the door should be repaired or replaced by a qualified contractor.

It’s also important that residents take steps to help keep themselves safe from fire. This includes keeping landings, corridors and doorways clear of obstructions and never propping fire doors open (this includes communal doors and the front door your flat). You should also report any damage or faults to doors and stairways to your landlord or building owner.

Find out more about fire door safety.

Cladding:
Is the external cladding system on my building safe?

There are numerous types of cladding systems available that provide rain screens and thermal insulation. If you are concerned about a system installed on your premises you are advised to discuss with your housing provider who should be able to advise on the cladding system that has been installed.

GMFRS has inspected all buildings and asked for information about cladding systems. Where there is a risk of fire spread from the cladding system we have worked with housing providers to ensure that suitable arrangements are in place.

Has the cladding system been approved?

Again, there are numerous types of cladding systems in use for rain screens and to provide thermal insulation to buildings. Your housing provider should be able to advise you on the type of cladding system used and the approvals process carried out by the relevant building control body.

How many tower blocks across Greater Manchester have already had the cladding tested and how long before you are satisfied that all blocks have been examined?

Since the establishment of the High Rise Taskforce, GMFRS has inspected more than 500 buildings (the number of premises subject to an inspection has increased as developments have been completed) to ensure they comply with fire safety regulations and reassure residents.

We were also informed of 69 buildings that were found to have ACM cladding which failed the Government commissioned fire tests undertaken by the Building Research Establishment (BRE). This included some hotels which do not operate a stay put policy and have fire alarms. More information regarding the tests and advice from the Expert Panel can be found on the DCLG website.

In other buildings the building owner has notified us that there is ACM or another non-compliant cladding system and appropriate arrangements have been implemented.

All buildings where the evacuation strategy has changed are monitored by GMFRS with ad-hoc and unannounced visits taking place to make sure the arrangements are being properly managed.

What has been the outcome of the compliance inspections?

GMFRS fire safety officers have carried out compliance inspections in every high rise residential building in Greater Manchester, working with housing providers, local authorities and buildings in private ownership to make sure the right fire safety advice is in place.

Following our inspections, 295 Action Plans were agreed across Greater Manchester, which outlines work that needs to be undertaken. A number of these have since been closed as the necessary action has been taken and the remaining blocks will be subject to further inspections before the Action Plans are closed off.

It’s important to note that if a block has an action plan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it doesn’t comply with fire regulations. In some cases we’ve requested a review of the Fire Risk Assessment or for the building owner/managing agent to identify and inform us what type of cladding system is installed on the building. In addition, due to the swift action taken following Grenfell, GMFRS wasn’t able to give the usual amount of notice to building owners before the inspections took place. This means that fire risk assessments and other documentation were not available at some premises when fire officers visited, resulting in a number of action plans being issued around documentation including Fire Risk Assessments.

Fire safety officers have since revisited blocks where compliance issues have been identified to ensure that the agreed actions are being carried out and any interim measures remain in place.

Why was my block given an action plan in place?

All compliance inspections are undertaken in line with national guidance – the enforcement management model. This allows inspecting officers to assess a building against the requirements of the fire safety order in order to determine the appropriate course of action.

There are generally three levels of compliance:

  • Compliant

  • Broadly compliant

  • Non-compliant

Having determined the compliance level, the officer will consider what action is appropriate – this is where the level of risk to residents is considered.

The potential actions available are:

  • No action

  • Written confirmation of minor works which may be required

  • Action plan – where work needs to be undertaken but there is agreement to carry it out

  • Enforcement Notice – a legal notice which stipulates work which must be undertaken and gives a timescale for completion of the work.

  • Prohibition Notice – these are notices that we only serve where there is a significant risk to occupiers.

Following our programme of high rise compliance inspections, 295 action plans were agreed between housing providers/building owners and GMFRS. In most cases, the action plans require housing providers/building owners to revisit their fire risk assessments to consider the risk of fire spread and also identify what materials have been used on the outside of buildings.

In the blocks with ACM cladding which has failed the Government fire tests we considered whether or not a Prohibition Notice was necessary and encouraged housing providers/building owners to put in place interim measures, as recommended by Government. In all buildings where there is a risk from cladding, those interim measures have been implemented.

We are now moving forward with follow up inspections to ensure the action plans have been adhered to and make sure agreed interimh5ny buildings have them in place and how are you ensuring they are being adhered to?

As of August 2018, there are currently 53 blocks with interim measures in place – i.e. in the event of a fire the building will be evacuated and those measures have been agreed with the landlord or managing agent in line with Government guidance.

Interim measures can include the implementation of a 24 hour fire warden or moving to a simultaneous evacuation policy. Interim measures will remain in place on a block until necessary fire safety works have been completed, for example the removal and replacement of unsafe cladding.

The GMFRS approach has been to support housing providers and residents by working co-operatively to ensure the safety of residents. Fire safety officers regularly visit affected blocks to ensure the right fire safety measures are in place and support building owners in making decisions regarding fire safety works.

The majority of the affected blocks are managed by social landlords and in all cases plans are in place for the removal and replacement of the cladding.

The cladding on my building isn’t ACM so why are there interim measures in place?

There are other types of cladding system which are not ACM but which have been identified as not complying with the Building Regulations and present a risk to residents. GMFRS has considered the risk to residents in those buildings in addition to blocks which have ACM cladding and taken action if there is a risk of external fire spread. This includes putting interim measures in place, as per Government guidance, to mitigate the risk until the cladding is replaced.

I live in a private tower block and residents are being asked to pay for interim measures and/or removal and replacement of cladding through substantial increases to our service charge. Is there anything you can do?

We recognise that there are considerable cost implications for all housing providers, building owners and leaseholders. Whilst we cannot stipulate who must pay for the work, as this is a legal matter and dependant on the lease, we will continue to work with housing providers/building owners to try and minimise the costs where possible. For example, providing access to the procurement framework shaped by Greater Manchester’s social landlords, which brings together suppliers of fire safety works (fire risk assessments, fire precaution work, sprinklers and fire alarm systems) in order to make tower blocks as safe from fire as possible while minimising the cost.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham and Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett have also called on the Government to provide the immediate funding needed to carry out urgent fire safety works, including the removal and replacement of dangerous cladding, while protecting leaseholders and residents. Read more on the GMCA website.

Leaseholders can also get free, impartial, legal advice on residential leasehold law from LEASE, a government-funded independent body.

How many buildings have been visited across Greater Manchester?

We have carried out a compliance visit in every high rise in Greater Manchester. A total compliance visit is undertaken by fire safety officers to ensure full compliance with the relevant regulations. Fire safety officers are now revisiting those blocks where compliance issues have been identified to ensure that the agreed actions are being carried out and any interim measures remain in place.

Firefighters have also visited every high rise to complete an OIS (operational information system) visits. An operational information system visit is where crews will familiarise themselves with the building – its layout and emergency systems.

General:

A Fire Safety audit – also known as a Fire Safety Compliance Inspection - is a visit made by a Fire Service Inspector for the purposes of checking whether a building complies with Fire Safety regulations and is fire safe.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service may visit a premises and undertake a Fire Safety Compliance Inspection, usually prearranged. All fire safety inspectors will be in uniform and carry identification.

The fire safety audit is an examination of the premises and relevant documents to ascertain how the premises are being managed with regards to fire safety.

The emphasis is on checking that duty holders can demonstrate how they are meeting their legal duties. In a workplace, the inspector may also wish to talk to members of staff to confirm their level of fire safety awareness.

Where applicable to the premises the inspector would expect to view documentary evidence - these documents can help demonstrate that a duty holder is fully complying with the law. Such documents include:

-      The significant findings of the Fire Risk Assessment

-      Records of Staff Training and Fire Drills

-      Records of Testing and Maintenance of Fire-fighting Equipment

-      Records of Testing and Maintenance for all Fire Safety Systems including Fire Alarms and Emergency Lighting

Where a failure to comply with fire safety legislation is found, the inspector will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach and will be based on the principles set out in the Authority’s published Fire Safety Regulation Policy and the Regulator’s Code.

Have Building Regulations been applied across Greater Manchester in the same way or have you found any variation in the interpretation from one authority to another?

GMFRS cannot supply this information. GMFRS are not the enforcing authority with regard to Building Regulations.

Within Greater Manchester there is an Association of Greater Manchester Authorities Building Control Group which represents the Local Authority Building Controls across Greater Manchester.  However the Building Control sector was opened up to wider competition and there are now private Approved Inspectors who can undertake the work.

Have potential issues regarding poor water pressure and radio problems been investigated in Greater Manchester?

In Greater Manchester, we have an existing arrangement with United Utilities to boost water pressure if needed, subject to the size of the main which the hydrants are on. We also have Hose Laying Lorries which can convey water over long distances.

In addition, we also have high volume pumps that can be set in open water (e.g. rivers, lakes) and can pump a large quantity of water over significant distances.

As part of our compliance inspections of high rise blocks, we have checked dry-risers are in place, and they are well maintained and serviced. Getting people out of the building safely is a priority, and to ensure the building is good enough that we’re fighting the fire within one flat, and that fire remains contained, so we don’t need large amounts of water.

With regards to radios, GMFRS has recently invested in new digital radios and is currently trailing new noise-cancelling microphones.

What steps are being taken to ensure that we have fire platforms in Greater Manchester which can reach higher floors than those available in London?

Prior to the fire at Grenfell Tower, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) had reviewed its existing aerial appliance provision. For some time GMFRS had six aerial appliances, known as Hydraulic Platforms, which have a maximum working height of 27.8 metres.

We have now received the first of our new aerial appliances which are known as Turntable Ladders (TL). Our first new TL has a maximum working height of 32m and we are waiting for delivery of a TL which reaches 42m. Although the maximum working height has increased, the 42m TL would be able, in ideal conditions, to reach the 14th floor of a high rise premises. Two more of these new appliances have been ordered and will be delivered next year.

Within the UK the 42m aerial appliances are the largest in service. Globally there are some countries that have bigger aerial appliances, mainly in an industrial setting, but it is unlikely they would be able to reach the 23rd storey and manoeuvrability in an urban environment is difficult due to the sheer size of the vehicles.

Has GMFRS got the resources to deal with an incident similar to what happened at Grenfell Tower?

We have been working hard with housing providers to try and make sure that a fire like the one at Grenfell Tower doesn’t occur in Greater Manchester. GMFRS has effectively responded to major fires in the past. We also have mutual aid agreements in place with neighbouring services who can provide us with additional resources if needed.

We also have a tower block scenario at our training centre in Bury, which is utilised by all operational firefighters across Greater Manchester.

We want to ensure all our residents are safe and the best way of doing that is stopping fire occurring in the first place so we offer residents a Safe and Well visit, which assesses fire risk and takes into account factors such as health and wellbeing, and crime prevention.

However, the fire and rescues service has suffered cuts over recent years, and this is something we will be raising with the Government as part of Greater Manchester’s response to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry.

What steps are being taken to ensure that all firefighters use the training facility in Bury, which has a tower block scenario, because clearly the numbers involved in the fire in London required team from across the capital and outside who may not have worked in this type of fire?

The service training facility at Bury is utilised by all operational firefighters across Greater Manchester, with the mandatory training which is called operational licence training. GMFRS are one of the first services across the UK to launch an operational licence training.

The operational licence allows the service to design training based on significant local and national events. It has been recognised for many years that high rise firefighting is complex and arduous, which is why we made sure our new training centre had a high rise facility.

In addition to the training that is undertaken at the facility in Bury, local training is undertaken as part of a maintenance of skills programme that is overseen by the Station and Watch Managers at every station across Greater Manchester.

As well as this training, GMFRS has a system known as the Operational Information System, where local firefighters capture risk information about certain premises including high rise premises that allows firefighters to utilise information when they are on their way to an incident involving high rise premises. Following the tragic incident at Grenfell Tower local crews have been reviewing this information.

If you have any concerns about the safety of your building you can email highrise@manchesterfire.gov.uk for more information or ring 0800 555815.  You can also find more information and advice on your local authority or housing provider’s website. Useful links are below.

Bolton Council

Bolton at Home

Bury Council

Manchester City Council

Oldham Council

Rochdale Council

Salford City Council

Stockport Council

Stockport Homes

Tameside Council

Ashton Pioneer Homes

New Charter Homes

Irwell Valley

Trafford Council

Trafford Housing Trust

Wigan Council