The aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire in London in June 2017 that took its terrible toll of 71 men, women and children continues to make its mark in fire safety matters, especially as the formal Inquiry into the fire gathers pace.
Following the government’s formal establishment of the Inquiry in August 2017, the Inquiry’s initial focus has been the designation of Core Participants (CP), and the securing of necessary expert involvement and the gathering of documentary evidence.
The Inquiry received an unprecedented number of CP applications, and has appointed a number of leading experts in the field of forensic fire analysis and fire engineering. Analysis has begun of over 200,000 documents received to date, with more to follow.
Advice from the team of experts is that understanding the conditions within the Tower, including the generation and movement of fire and smoke, is of paramount importance. To enable the experts to reach firm conclusions, they need evidence of conditions at different levels within the building as the fire and smoke developed, as well as evidence of the development of flames on the outside of the building.
Obtaining accounts from both the former residents of Grenfell Tower and from the firefighters who responded is key to this. About 225 residents managed to escape from the building and approximately 260 firefighters attended the fire. There are therefore about 500 witnesses to interview, together with other people who have accounts which must be heard. Taking statements from such a large number of people, many of whom have been traumatised by their experience, is a time-consuming but essential process which has yet to be completed.
The pace of this process has also been unavoidably affected by the existence of the concurrent police investigation, since it is vital that the work of the Inquiry must not undermine any future prosecution. This means that, in many instances, the police need to take statements from potential witnesses before statements can be taken for the Inquiry. This is to ensure that the integrity of the evidence given to the police cannot be called into question at any future criminal trial.
Clearly, the Grenfell Inquiry will be a very thorough and searching event. At its conclusion its recommendations are likely to have a profound effect on the whole area of fire safety and prevention, not just in tall towers, but other types of buildings, and embrace construction materials, fire resistance testing, and active and passive protection.
In previous issues of Gulf Fire, I have highlighted one of the current safety issues facing the global fire sector is the unacceptably high number of fires of electrical origin. In the UK, there are approximately 25,000 annual incidents in this category, a number of which have involved fatalities. It is poignant to record that the Genfell Tower inferno originated in a freezer unit. The United Arab Emirates also has a situation where fires of electrical origin form one of the most common annual causes of outbreaks, and there are similar instances in other developed countries.
A specific UK example of an outbreak of electrical origin is the double fatal fire in a flat in North Wales that originally occurred back in 2014. North Wales Fire & Rescue Service were adamant that the origin of the fire was in a tumble dryer in the kitchen, although Whirlpool, the manufacturer of the tumble dryer involved in the North Wales fire strongly opposed this view.
The inital Inquest into the fatal fire was adjourned, and only reconvened in September 2017. After taking much technical and fire investigation evidence, at its conclusion, the Coroner’s verdict was that on the balance of probabilities, the fire was caused by an electrical fault in the tumble dryer in the laundry room of the flat.
Some tumble dryers are known to have a fault in their circuit boards, and although manufacturers are undertaking service recall programmes, it is believed that almost three million appliances are still awaiting remedial action leaving them still with a serious risk of fire. Notices had previously been issued by Whirlpool telling customers to unplug Hotpoint, Creda and Indesit models manufactured between 2004 and 2015 after a potential fire risk was identified.
The introduction of smoke detectors into domestic dwellings some three decades ago has had a very significant and welcome effect in reducing fire fatalities and other casualties and damage. It would therefore seem that the large number of recorded fires of electrical origin do need to be urgently addressed with an innovative application of a solution to diminish this blot on the fire statistics landscape. I look forward to reporting on developments in this field in the very near future.
This edition of Gulf Fire looks forward to the 2018 Intersec Expo in Dubai, now in its 20th year. Intersec has become the largest exhibition and the most international trade platform for Security, Safety & Fire Protection worldwide. The 2017 edition attracted 1,304 exhibitors and 32,750 visitors drawn from 129 countries, Intersec visitor research over the three days of the 2017 show indicated that 40% of Intersec visitors do not attend any other shows.
Intersec 2018 will be covering 12 halls and 51,000 sq metres at the Dubai Exhibition and Convention Centre. It will be again a great pleasure to see many of our advertisers and readers during the hectic hours of Intersec and the Gulf Fire team look forward to meeting you in Dubai on 21 to 23 January 2018.