Thursday, June 15

Grenfell Tower: An inferno waiting to happen UPDATED 6/16 7:30am EDT

Daily Mail report, which begins like this:

Fireproof cladding that would have prevented Grenfell Tower tragedy 'would have cost just £5,000 extra' - and the cheap version that WAS used is BANNED in America

  • Hundreds of aluminium Reynobond panels were installed on Grenfell Tower
  • Three panel types - one with flammable plastic core and two are fire-resistant
  • Grenfell contractors reportedly chose the cheaper version with the plastic core 
  • Panel with the plastic core is £22 sq m - £2 cheaper than fire-resistant version 
Much more news in the report. The Mail is on the warpath. 

The fire disaster is taking on overtones of the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill scandal.  

See also Facing criticism, British PM to visit London fire victims; Reuters, June 16 7:21am EDT. 

 ... Fire and police officials have not specified what went wrong, but extensive video footage shows the flames climbing the exterior of the building at a remarkable pace.
"I've never seen a fire like that in my life," said Joe Ruane, the former deputy chief fire officer for U.S. Air Force bases in Britain. "I've never seen that in a residential block."
... the fire seemed to climb the exterior of the tower so quickly that it overwhelmed protective systems like fire doors. ...
[The Associated Press]
Then Joe Ruane hadn't seen footage of fires where exterior plastic cladding like that used for Grenfell Towers sheathed other high-rise buildings:
... Questions have been raised about why the fire appeared to spread so quickly and engulf the entire building.
BBC Newsnight's Chris Cook says the type of cladding on the outside of Grenfell Tower, installed in 2015 during a refurbishment, had a polyethylene -- or plastic -- core, instead of a more fireproof alternative with a mineral core. [Pundita note: the installation might have happened more recently than 2015.]
Similar cladding was used in high-rise buildings hit by fires in France, the UAE and Australia, he said.
The [British] government has said checks were now planned on tower blocks that have gone through a similar upgrade.
Construction firm Rydon, which carried out the refurbishment, initially said in a statement that the work met "all fire regulations."
The wording was omitted in a later statement. ...
Let me guess: Is the plastic core cheaper than the mineral one?  And was plastic cladding developed for use in high-rise buildings?  

No guessing needed here: The only people who made it alive out of the Grenfell Tower inferno -- if you don't count the baby thrown to safety from a window -- were ones pulled out by firefighters and those who ignored the safety regulation to stay inside their flats in case of fire outside their door. 

Even then evacuees and firefighters alike faced what would have been a horrific obstacle as flames and smoke engulfed the hallways:
Overseas colleagues are "staggered" when they hear tall buildings are built in the UK with a single staircase, he added. ...

There's more:
Concerns have also been raised about fire alarms not going off and the lack of sprinklers.
It is still possible to build tall buildings without sprinklers, said Russ Timpson of the Tall Buildings Fire Safety Network, but he expected regulations might change soon.
Roy Wilsher, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council, said that if the fire spread up the outside of the tower, sprinklers might not have made a difference.
Design and regulations for such tower blocks mean fire should be contained in a single flat, he said. "Clearly something's gone wrong in this case."
More than one thing went wrong:
The 24-story public housing complex is owned by the local government council in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and was completed in the 1970s. It is managed by the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, which spent 10 million pounds ($12.8 million) refurbishing the building over the last two years.
The renovation project included installation of insulated exterior cladding, double-glazed windows and a communal heating system.

Investigators need to look at what materials were used in the project and who approved their use, [Joe] Ruane said. But he said the speed with which the fire spread suggests that more than one fire protection safeguard failed.
"It's not just one thing," Ruane said. "It's multiple issues." ...
[The Associated Press]
The AP goes on to examine the building's fire evacuation procedure and a question that can't be fully answered at this early stage: Who was to blame?  But one thing is already clear from the AP report:
While investigations are underway to determine what went wrong, tenants said repeated complaints were ignored. Survivor Edward Daffarn said the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization, or KCTMO, which manages the Grenfell Tower as well as other buildings in the area, is responsible because it ignored numerous warnings.
A local community organization, the Grenfell Action Group, had warned about fire dangers at the building since 2013. In a series of blog posts, the group raised concerns about testing and maintenance of fire-fighting equipment and blocked emergency access to the site.
"All our warnings fell on deaf ears, and we predicted that a catastrophe like this was inevitable and just a matter of time," the group said in a blog post Wednesday. ... 
Yes, the KCTMO was fully aware of the complaints at the times they were registered. From the latest update to the BBC report:
Fire risk assessment in tower blocks was "less rigorous" since responsibility for it shifted from the fire brigade to the owner, Sian Berry, housing committee chairwoman of the London Assembly, said.
Although there is plenty more information in the AP and BBC reports, there's really nothing much else for me to write, except to offer my condolences, sympathy for the survivors, prayers for the fast recovery of the injured, and praise for the firefighters who had to deal with the inferno that was waiting to happen. 

And to note from the very latest update from a live Beeb report that "dozens" of people caught in the fire are still  unaccounted for. 
  1. Seventeen people known to have died at Grenfell Tower
  1. Death toll 'will sadly increase', police say
  1. Nearly 80 people treated in six hospitals, 17 still in critical care
  1. Names emerge of some of the missing
  1. The cause of the fire remains unknown
  1. Around 200 firefighters tackled the blaze at its height
  1. Theresa May promises 'proper investigation'

BBC: London fire: Death toll rises to 17; June 15, 2017 -- updated approximately 40 minutes ago


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