Fire Safety Briefing for Council Housing in Swindon
The anniversary of the terrible fire at Grenfell and the devastation that it caused to so many lives is a stark reminder to ensure that we review fire safety procedures on a regular basis.
At Swindon Borough Council (SBC), work continues to ensure that your safety remains paramount.
We work in partnership with Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service (DWFRS) to ensure that our council housing is safe, and to scrutinise our procedures to make improvements as necessary.
SBC has approximately 10,200 properties of which 40% (4080) comprise of purpose built flats. These include the David Murray John Tower a 21, storey block of mixed residential and commercial properties; 6, ten storey high-rise blocks, 1, seven story sheltered housing block, 90, medium-rise blocks and 500, low-rise blocks of two storeys.
Fire safety in the high-rise blocks in Swindon before 14th June 2017
SBC blocks of flats were constructed to resist fire. Each flat has fire-restricting walls, floors and ceilings creating its own compartment to prevent the spread of fire, (compartmentation for up to 1 hour). Door closers are in place to ensure that doors shut securely, maintaining the compartmentation of the building. The fire alarm systems installed by the Council will detect fire in the individual’s flat and the communal areas. Dry or wet risers help the fire service to tackle the spread of fire. CCTV systems in bin stores, lifts and fire panels provide additional fire protection.
Officers carry out fire risk assessments to the high-rise blocks annually to assess fire risks and record recommendations to ensure that we are meeting fire safety legislation. This includes checking the make-up of the building, its fire doors and fire-stopping to the service ducts.
Alarms are fitted to communal areas; fire action notices are displayed on each floor, advising residents on what to do in the event of a fire. All fire alarm detectors have a flashing beacon that activates in a fire so that anyone who is hard of hearing is aware that an alarm has sounded. Alarms are linked to SBC’s Control Room which is staffed 24/7. Fire alarms are tested each week to make sure they are working and tested every three months by a specialist alarm company for additional safety. The alarms will pinpoint exactly where the fire is in the block of flats.
SBC response to Grenfell
Immediately after the fire at Grenfell Tower, SBC examined the safety procedures that were in place for the high-rise tower blocks. The Cabinet Member for Housing and Public Safety issued a press release extending deepest sympathies to those affected by this terrible event, and to give reassurance to tenants in Swindon that their homes had effective fire safety measures. During June, full fire alarm tests were done at all blocks, and letters and leaflets sent to residents of high-rise blocks with an invitation to meet their Member of Parliament, Councillors as well as officers from the Fire Service and SBC. This gave residents the opportunity to raise any concerns that they had, these were logged and would be reviewed.
SBC sent confirmation to the Government of the number of high-rise blocks that they owned and also to confirm that none of them had the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) external cladding fitted to the outside of these blocks (this was the cladding that had been used on the Grenfell Tower and burnt so quickly). At this time, a review of the fire risk assessment for the DMJ tower in Swindon took place.
Residents were given a Frequently Asked Questions sheet in response to the most recurrent queries.
In July, revised Fire Risk Assessments were sent to the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service with an update of actions taken in response to the Grenfell Tower fire.
Post Grenfell Tower - Improved fire safety in blocks of flats
In line with LGA guidance, a review of existing fire safety measures was carried out. This resulted in the development of a rationale for the fire safety improvements. Fire safety visits are vital – the electrical team at SBC established a programme of w
eekly, quarterly and annual fire alarm testing.
The DMJ tower to have a new front entrance fire doors, additional hard-wired smoke detectors and intumescent grills (a grill to allow airflow that, in the case of heat, swells to provide a fire barrier that restricts the passage of hot gases). The smoke detectors have now been fitted.
The six high-rise blocks – new internal fire doors, passive protection to protected shafts (escape stairway) and intumescent grills.
High-rise sheltered housing scheme – installation of a sprinkler system.
Medium rise blocks – emergency escape lighting, this has been completed. Consultant engaged to sample intrusive type 4 fire risk assessments surveys.
Creating a temporary post to manage fire safety activities.
Annual type 3 fire risk assessment to blocks of flats.
To maintain a strong relationships with local Fire Service.
Arrange for half-yearly fire drills to high-rise blocks.
The Neighbourhood wardens to discuss fire safety with residents when inspecting communal areas of flats.
Regular updates to tenants through social media and newsletters.
Ensure contractors aware of fire safety policy.
List to residents’ concerns – provide advice where necessary.
Start dialogue with leaseholders that have fitted non-standard fire doors.
Officer working group to review recommendations from Hackitt report (the independent review of Building regulations and Fire Safety). There will be new regulations for high-rise blocks – defined as those blocks with 10 storey or more.
To assign key lead officers to support change and bring in best practice.
Provision of quarterly updates to Corporate Management team.
Actions to improve fire safety written into the risk register.
To carry out extensive programme of fire alarm testing with DWFRS.
Swindon Borough Council has no residential blocks of flats with ACM panels so follow the Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service, ‘stay put and prepare to evacuate’ policy. This is because as each flat is an individual compartment, resistant to fire for up to 1 hour. Dorset and Wiltshire Fire Service will then provide support and advice on evacuating the building. If the fire is within an individual’s flat – they should leave, taking any other occupant with them.
At SBC, we check our processes with those of other local authorities to ensure that we are following best practises. Our commitment is to the safety of our tenants and residents; we will continue to make fire safety improvements as necessary.
If you have any questions, concerns or would like more information on fire safety in your home, please contact your Neighbourhood Warden team or your Neighbourhood Housing Officer.