Asked And Answered: Answers Received Over Level of Fire Risk in Local Tower Blocks

Hounslow Homes and Councillor Jon Hardy (Lead Member for Housing and Service Improvement) respond


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Late on Tuesday afternoon it was confirmed that, following the BBC report, the Assistant Commissioner from the London Fire Brigade  asked for the local fire service to do an inspection at Cornish House, this was carried out by Martin Green. We understand that this is, on the whole, favourable.   The full LFB report will be with us next week and will be posted on the Hounslow Homes and LBH websites.

1) During a routine inspection a small gas leak was discovered this pm at Cornish House and, as a precaution, the gas supply was turned off by National Grid.

2) There ARE risk assessments in place for all Hounslow Homes Properties including Brentford Towers contrary to what the BBC has reported  

3) upgrading of these risk assessments  commenced BEFORE the Camberwell fire let alone the visit by the BBC  

4) On Monday 6th October (before the report was broadcast) work began at Brentford Towers with regard to fire safety: this had been programmed for some time.  While they were on-site they checked out the BBC's claims

(i) BBC CLAIM: No fire protection between flats and lifts - meaning if a fire were to start smoke and fire could spread through the building via the lift shaft, which would effectively act as a "chimney".

The building complied with the building regulations in force at the time of construction. There is a lift shaft, enclosed staircase and an opening window at each floor level serving the communal area.

The design of the opening window is such that smoke would escape through the communal window rather than be drawn through the lift shaft “like a chimney”. People escaping from other floors would escape via a smoke free protected staircase.

(ii) BBC CLAIM: A padlock found on one of the fire escapes

The padlock had been removed prior to our inspection, but the door is not a dedicated fire escape route anyway - the door is kept locked for security reasons.

(iii) BBC CLAIM: Holes bored through ceilings to allow cables through - wide enough to allow smoke and flame to pass, thus accelerating the rate at which fire could spread.

The holes that were evident were all within the allowable limit of 25mm, which was the regulatory standard at the time of construction. The holes that exceeded the regulatory limit of 25mm appeared to be sealed. Subsequently more detailed inspections have identified a few small holes that were not sealed.  An instruction has been given for these holes to be filled by Thursday 8/10/09.

(iv) BBC CLAIM: A section of floor smashed through following a water leak, which had not then been fire, proofed except with a plastic bag.

Upon removal of the plastic bag it was clear to see that a fireproof sealant had been used to fill the hole. It would appear that the plastic bag was left in situ to prevent the fireproof sealant from escaping whilst it cured. Once the sealant had cured the plastic bag should have been removed and the hole redecorated.

(v) BBC CLAIM: Residents' doors replaced with non-fire-proofed doors.

It would appear that a number of Leaseholders might have replaced their front doors with non-fire proofed doors. These will be fully assessed by our specialist assessor as part of his risk assessment. We will then write to the leaseholders involved advising them of the action that will be required.

(vi) BBC CLAIM: No bar on the door of the rear fire escape. It took the expert several minutes to work out how to open it. The emergency lighting in that corridor has been removed, so in a fire situation residents would be trying to work out how to open the door in pitch black.

Our inspection verified that there was no emergency push bar fitted on the rear fire escape. The reason for this is that the door has a fireman’s switch attached to it.  With a push bar being fitted in the case of a fire the emergency services would not be able to gain access.  The emergency push buttons to all blocks at Brentford Towers are being replaced with a larger illuminated button that can be seen if the area is filled with smoke.  In the case of a power failure then the door mechanism fails safe in the unlocked position

(vii) BBC CLAIM: Fireman's switch broken

The fireman's switch was tested and found to only open the right hand door of the two rear doors. An order has been raised with our contractors to repair this. It is worth noting that these are periodically inspected as part of the estate monitoring inspections and need to be frequently repaired due to vandalism.

(viii) BBC CLAIM: Lack of emergency signage

Emergency signage is clearly lacking - measures are being put in place to rectify this. 

 With reference to the comment raised regarding the safety of the rising gas main, the building was constructed after 1968 (Ronan Point Collapse) and is designed to withstand a gas explosion and disproportionate collapse. Having said this and in response to consideration the anxiety expressed by the residents of the blocks at Brentford Towers it has been decided to approach the National Grid to request that the gas mains be discontinued. 

In general, and although there are issues to be addressed, the building was considered to be reasonably well maintained.

It should be noted that the surveyor shown in the BBC report, Mr Tarling, has sent Hounslow Homes a further FOI request. He works for BETA Litigation Surveyors.

October 8, 2009