Readers will probably recall that in the previous edition of Gulf Fire, I reported aspects of the first few weeks of the UK governmental Public Inquiry into the disastrous Grenfell Tower fire in West London on the fateful night of 14 June 2017 which claimed a terrible toll of 72 men, women and children, although a number of rescues were carried out by London Fire Brigade crews under the most dangerous conditions.
The fire in Grenfell Tower started in a kitchen fridge freezer on the 4th floor and the rapid spread of fire was fed by combustible external cladding panels, and the ineffective fire doors that also contributed to the fast spread of flame and smoke. Grenfell Tower had undergone a comprehensive refurbishment which was completed in 2017.
The Grenfell Tower Fire Public Inquiry has now been sitting and taking evidence since June 2018, and the findings have already established an extensive catalogue of negligence in most areas of fire protection and safety. This soon posed the simple question – just how could such a dreadful tragedy happen in the 21st century? The answers to this question have implications for tower blocks not just in the UK, but in the Gulf, and indeed on a worldwide basis.
For apart from the non-compliant flammable external panels that gave the London Fire Brigade firefighters little chance to arrest the all-consuming upward spread of flames, other areas of failure all contributed to the worst fire tragedy that the UK has ever suffered.
Over 100 fire doors which were fitted during the 2017 Grenfell refurbishment were non-fire rated and, in addition, were apparently badly fitted. These factors allowed thick toxic smoke to spread so fast into the tower’s single staircase and upper floors that many of the casualties were trapped and unable to escape. The lifts in the tower did not work properly, thus denying firefighters rapid access to upper floors along with their vital equipment. The tower lacked a sprinkler system and only had a dry riser, and the fire alarm failed to activate at a time when many residents were asleep. And as the Inquiry proceeds, even more unsatisfactory elements concerning inadequate fire protection continue to emerge.
However, I make no apology for continuing to dwell upon the many ongoing aspects of the UK’s worst Tall Tower fire disaster. The clear implications already emerging from the technical evidence given to the Public Inquiry will undoubtedly lead to major changes to UK statutory fire safety legislation and inspection procedures to ensure that the nation never again sees such an avoidable and terrible fire tragedy. Surely, when the Grenfell Inquiry multiple recommendations are finally published, there will be global interest and action, not just in the Gulf, but worldwide.
Readers will recall that in 2017, tough new fire safety regulations were embodied in the amended UAE Fire Safety and Life Protection Code which came into force across the United Arab Emirates in response to a series of serious fires in high-rise towers in the Emirates over the past few years. The new Code targeted the exterior cladding panels that have been blamed for the rapid spread of many high-rise tower fires and were primarily concerned with improving the fire safety of cladding panels, especially those on existing towers and other buildings. The stricter regulations on cladding panels are aimed to ensure that non-flammability is “as close to zero as possible”
The new specifications are to guarantee the installation of only the safest non-flammable cladding in new buildings, thus minimising the chances of fire spreading as ferociously as has been witnessed during recent Gulf incidents, similar to the Grenfell inferno.
The amended UAE Fire Safety and Life Protection Code contains a requirement to minimise the risk to zero in high-rise towers, even old buildings which will have to meet the new code when it is time for their maintenance. The amended Code specifies procedures for the installation of fire-rated cladding and contains detailed guidelines and responsibilities for consultants, contractors, and manufacturers.
If there is an epitaph for that terrible night in West London on 14 June 2017, it will be to ensure that proper certified fire rated products are always used in a construction or refurbishment, and that they are installed correctly in order to safeguard life and to give firefighters the chance to extinguish an outbreak of fire. This was certainly not the case at Grenfell Tower that dark night, when 200 gallant London Fire Brigade firefighters bravely faced a true firestorm.
Looking ahead to Intersec 2019, I expect that some aspect of Tall Tower fire protection and safety will, no doubt, be a very current topic discussed by visitors and possibly the subject of a paper in the Fire Conference. And all this against a backdrop of some of the latest technology and best practice fire engineering products on view in the exhibition.
Another even larger forthcoming gathering now coming closer is the World Expo 2020, to be held in Dubai between 20 October 2020 and 10 April 2021. The Expo site will cover a total of 438 hectares located in Dubai South district, near the Al Maktoum International Airport. The huge World Expo construction site is rapidly taking shape and gives an idea of how extensive this event will be.
This is the first time that World Expo has been awarded to a Middle East country. Expo 2020 Dubai is being organised under the theme ‘Connecting Minds and Creating the Future’. It is estimated that Expo Dubai 2020 could see a staggering attendance over the six months of the show of some 25 million visitors to what will be a global shop window of innovation and technology.
For more information, go to www.expo2020dubai.ae