Providing Alternative Fire Safety Solutions to ‘Waking Watch’

 

Grenfell Tower

 

Grenfell Tower

 

As I am sure you are aware of the Grenfell Tower incident which happened 4 years ago. Grenfell Tower was situated in North Kensington, London, and contained 129 apartments and housing up to 600 people. 

In June 2017, a fire rapidly spread throughout this 24-storey flat, killing over 70 people and physically injuring 70 more, due to the unsafe and extremely combustible cladding on the outside of the building. The building was burning for over 60 hours before being fully extinguished and was the biggest residential fire since the Second World War.

The effects of the Grenfell Tower fire are long term. There will be hundreds of people who have mental health issues linked to this event, not only those that were residents but also those who witnessed the terrible scenes of that night. Relatives, friends, and community 

Admittedly the cause of the fire was not the cladding, but the cladding paired with the stay-put policy could be to blame for all the deaths and injuries. When the electrical appliance caught on fire, instead of the fire being contained as it should in a building like this, it very rapidly spread throughout the building due to the cladding on the outside of the building. 

 

The Stay-Put Policy 

 

This policy is designed for blocks of flats. Residents remain in their own contained flats in the event of a fire, whether in a communal area or another flat, in a relatively safe environment. 

This policy applies if there is no smoke or heat felt in the room. If this is the case, then you should evacuate the building. 

When staying in your flat when a fire is in your building you should remain with the door closed and alert the emergency services by calling 999. 

See the official guidelines here

https://www.nationalfirechiefs.org.uk/Stay-Put-position

 

What is Waking Watch?

 

This is a method of fire safety that is having to be mandatory rolled out in the buildings which have the same combustible cladding as Grenfell Tower. 

Waking watch is where people are hired to patrol the buildings, each floor and the perimeter, 24 hours a day to watch for fire. As you can imagine, this is a long-winded way to check for fires and is extremely costly to the residents of the buildings. 

Waking watch was an emergency fire safety method. The measure was put in place after the Grenfell Tower Incident to help ensure a level of fire safety to residents in buildings with the dangerous cladding. 

Find out more regarding the waking watch fund relief here; https://www.gov.uk/guidance/waking-watch-relief-fund

 

Government Funding

 

Despite this devastating event and over £3 billion worth of government funds being granted to help solve the issue, many people in the UK are still having to live in buildings with this dangerous, flammable cladding. Although this may sound like a lot of money to be investing into the refit of these buildings there are currently thousands of people living in places with this cladding. There are extensive application processes and long lists of requirements which make it increasingly difficult to get the funding required. 

To help buildings which do not qualify for the refurbished cladding grants, the government offered £30 million worth of grants to buildings where residents are paying for ‘waking watch’. This was open for applications from February 2021 and again, had a list of requirements in order to qualify for this government funding. 

This £30 million of funding was announced to attempt to end the need for waking watch. Waking watch although effective in keeping residents safe, is not cost effective or a permanent solution to this fire safety issue. 

 

Who is it Affecting?

 

It is incredibly difficult to say what the true extent of the issue due to the government not regularly supplying statistics to the public. 

The government had identified 462 high-rise residential buildings with the dangerous cladding. According to the government on 200 of these 462 buildings, all of this cladding has been removed. 

These figures solely represent the buildings which are over 18 meters high and have the same cladding used on Grenfell Tower. There may be several types of cladding that have the same flammable qualities as this cladding but are just not included in the figures. 

 

How is it Affecting Residents?

 

Understandably, these issues are not only causing residents great stress due to safety concerns but also financial issues. Whilst insurance of these properties has understandably raised significantly, more safety measures have had to be put in place at the expense of the victims.

Whilst this is a significant amount of money available from the government it does not cover a range of things such as low-rise buildings, internal issues, balconies, and more. Another crucial thing that this funding does not cover, is known as ‘waking watches’. This is where residents of buildings, vulnerable due to the cladding, are having to outsource the fire safety in the form of professionally trained guards who patrol the floors and perimeter of the building to ensure their safety.  

With thousands of homes now identified to having the same unsafe cladding, ‘waking watch’ is in higher demand and extremely costly to the residents of these properties. There is a high demand for alternative solutions to these expensive 24-hour safety guards.

There is additional government funding available, this came in place for an application from February 2021, for buildings to have a fire alarm installed to reduce the need for a ‘waking watch’.  There is a list of things that must apply to the building before it can apply for this funding and again the property must be over 18 meters tall. 

 

What Solutions are Available?

 

It is four years on from when the Grenfell Tower had its fire. There has not been much change in terms of making these residential properties more fire safe for their residents. As stated above, apparently 200 high rise buildings have been completely stripped on this cladding. This is simply the tip of the iceberg in terms of refitting buildings with new cladding. This means long term or permanent fire safety solutions need to be put in place. 

Solutions such as monitored fire alarm systems are available for buildings like these. Although the system could initially be costly to install, it will be much more cost-effective in the long run for the residents of these buildings which are being made to pay for these additional safety measures to be put in place. 

 

Fire alarm systems are the more permanent solution to this problem. There are a range of different fire alarm systems available that would be suitable for these kinds of buildings. 

 

–   Wireless Fire Alarm Systems

 

These systems are quick and easy to install as no wires are required. This can be a good option for a mess-free installation, however, may require more maintenance as they run on batteries. 

For big multi-storey dwelling, this can be a quick way to install a fire alarm system. Along with this, technologies have progressed that the batteries in these can last up to 5 years. 

 

–   Hardwired Fire Alarm Systems

 

A hardwired system is the most common type of fire alarm system we install. These systems are wired into the mains through cabling. 

Although these systems take longer to install due to the extensive amount of cabling needed for a big fire alarm system, in a high-rise building, and slightly more expensive due to a large amount of cabling.

These devices don’t need battery changes and therefore once installed are able to be left for 10 years in place. 

From the fire panel landlords or tenants of a building can see if a device has gone off and where in the building. This will mean it is quick and easy to locate the fire initially and can save many lives. 

Of course, for buildings such as high-rise flats, there will have to be a range of smoke and heat detectors in the flats to ensure minimal false alarms are made. Heat detectors will be placed in the kitchen to ensure someone burning their toast isn’t going to set off the entire fire alarm and mean the building has to evacuate. 

 

–   Hybrid Fire Alarm Systems

 

A hybrid system is a mix of both wireless and hardwired devices in a building. The main control equipment would be hardwired in, with the wireless devices being able to communicate with the main control equipment. 

An advantage of these systems is it is a quick installation and not much time is needed to install devices in individual’s flats. 

For a high-rise block of flats these are often the best option for a fire alarm system. Hardwired systems need long lengths of cables which can be costly and time consuming for both the building and the company involved in the installation. 

For wireless devices, it is quick and simple for an engineer to pop in and install a wireless detector. If it was a hardwired device it would take much longer to install cables neatly throughout an entire, sometimes 16 storey, building. 

 

 

Who should you contact if you are worried about cladding issues in your home:

 

  • Your Local Councillor
  • Local MP 

 

Here at A.P.E Fire & Security, we have fitted a range of fire alarm systems suitable for a range of different properties and to a wide variety of specifications. We are currently working on a project installing a fire alarm system to replace the building’s waking watch. There will be a case study coming to our website soon!

If you are currently a landlord of a building in this situation and would like to inquire about your options, please don’t hesitate to get in touch today! 

0117 982 5045

info@apealarms.co.uk