Let’s Talk About the Serious Issue of Fire Safety

Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Towers in London there is understandable anxiety about fire safety in properties, particularly high rise properties – so it’s time to take stock of where we are and how things work in Unipol housing.

Fire safety, and all aspects of health and safety is the top priority at Unipol and we want to reassure our tenants that their safety is an absolute priority. The details of fire safety arrangements are different for different types of property but how the systems work and what you should do in the event of a fire are displayed either in your room or by the fire panel in your house or flat.

Unipol has a robust fire risk assessment regime and we make sure that our buildings, policies and procedures comply with existing regulations and have the necessary systems installed and staff are trained to undertake proactive and reactive fire safety management, which includes building inspections and routine fire alarm testing.

How Fire Safety Works

Although systems can be complex there are some basic principles that it is helpful to understand.

Smoke Detector

Fire safety consists of the following key elements:

detection – having smoke and heat detection that sets off an alarm to tell you if there is a fire detected

fire containment – each room is designed to contain any fire for half an hour and, in flats, the flat is designed to contain a fire for an hour. That is why room doors are half hour fire doors and most have self-closers, so that they are always kept closed for containment purposes

escape – each house or flat has an exit route that is protected from fire from the rooms surrounding it. In a house, the fire doors create a protracted route of escape (that does not go through any high risk areas such as a kitchen) to an external door which can be opened without the use of a key. In larger buildings there are dedicated stairwells that lead directly to outside the building – these areas are kept “sterile” which means they are empty of anything that could encourage a fire to burn. Where escape routes are over a certain distance or involve some signage to tell you where to go these areas are lit by emergency lighting which is tested regularly.

In addition to meeting all regulatory requirements, Unipol has an additional independent assessment made of all its buildings under the 2004 Housing Act Housing Health and Safety Ratings System every five years and any deficiencies are attended to.

High Rise Buildings

Mill Street Student Accommodation

Unipol has two building that are high rise: Mill Street (10 floors) and Grayson Heights (12 floors).

Both have full fire risk assessments and a pro-active fire safety regime with weekly testing. Because both contain shared student accommodation they have the highest rated zoned smoke and heat detection systems with central monitoring in all rooms, in the lobbies and and in the stairwells. Both developments have firefighting lifts and “dry risers” which are outlets for water on each landing allowing fire fighters to draw water for firefighting on each floor.

Although the cause of the fire at Grenfell Towers is still subject to investigation attention is concentrating on the new cladding (an aluminium composite material) that was added to the exterior of the building during a recent refurbishment. Neither Mill Street nor Grayson Heights contains any of the suspect aluminium composite material and neither has had cladding added to their exterior since construction.

Both buildings meet the highest fire safety standards and are intensively managed to ensure full regulatory compliance.

High Rise Buildings – If You Are Really Interested

In 2011 The Local Government Association together with the Chief Fire Officers Association published the guidance document on Fire Safety in Purpose Built Flats and some key points from that guidance included:

  • a fire in a flat is no more dangerous than a fire in a house
  • high rise does not mean high-risk
  • to keep fire risk to a minimum it is just as important to prevent fires as to provide measures to protect people when fire occurs.

On 16th June 2017, after the Grenfell Towers fire, West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service prepared a Briefing for MPs which says:

“The advice from WYFRS will be that, subject to buildings being built and maintained correctly, the walls, floors and doors will protect you and the rest of the building from fire for a minimum of 30-60 minutes. The vast majority of fires within high rise blocks across West Yorkshire are contained to the flat where the fire started. Those occupants of flats not involved in fire are safe to remain in their flat subject to the fire being contained to the flat of origin. Most blocks of flats will therefore advise occupants to ‘stay put’ if the fire is not within their flat. Although this relies on there being effective compartmentation, it is a principle that is currently adopted wherever possible. Clearly, the events at Grenfell Tower resulted in the fire spreading throughout the building and in this rare circumstance, the on scene Fire Commander would have to amend the advice accordingly and residents may be instructed to leave their flats, if it is safe to do so, and exit the building via the protected staircase/s. Firefighters would be tasked to assist this evacuation and the staff within our control centre would also support with advise to residents who make 999 calls.”

fire-escape

Unipol’s Health and Safety Policies are in the public domain and have always been accessible to anyone visiting our website. If you want to see the whole detailed policy then you can consult it here.

The fire safety policy details can be found on pages 13-22.

Fire Safety Awareness

A Wall Mounted Fire Blanket

Please read carefully and familiarise yourselves with fire safety information displayed on notice next to fire panel in your flat or in your room.

If you discover a fire call 999 immediately, from any phone and leave the affected area straight away.

You can do a lot to minimise the chance of a fire occurring – always be in the kitchen in you are using an open flame, avoid chip pans when cooking and never prop fire doors open.

Never store waste in the corridors to your flat.

A fire blanket is provided in each kitchen and family residents are also provided with a small dry powder fire extinguisher to deal with any minor incidents.

All fire equipment is vital, so help us to keep it in working order as intended and report any items of concern to Unipol immediately.

In Conclusion

We want you to feel safe and secure in our properties and to have confidence that we run things property and have rigorous health and safety routines to ensure that we are more than fully compliant with the regulations that govern fire safety in your dwelling.

If you have any questions or would like any further information then you can always contact us here housing@unipol.org.uk