For the civil, and fire protection engineers, including the everyday people of West London, the 14th of June 2017 will be a stark reminder of the dangers of fire. At 1a.m. local time, a 24-storey apartment block caught fire, leading to at least twelve deaths, with 60 injured as a result of the blaze.
The London Fire Brigade reportedly dispatched 200 fire-fighters, along with 40 trucks to try and contain the blaze. By daylight, the fire seemed to have been contained.
A concerned civil engineer on Twitter, Hiten B Chohan said:
“#GrenfellTower. This intense fire, still burning. Can blow up RC columns making the whole building unstable. Worried Civil Engineer.”
“We have a structural engineer, who in conjunction with my urban search and rescue advisor is monitoring the stability of the building,” said London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dany Cotton. “This is an unprecedented incident. In my 29 years of being a fire-fighter, I have never ever seen anything on this scale.”
However, according to multiple news sources, the structural engineer, after performing a study of the building, confirmed that the building was not in danger of collapsing.
The fire chiefs involved in the investigation say it is too early to speculate what may have caused the fire. A property company that might be perplexed about how such a mammoth fire was possible are refurbishment experts Rydon, who had performed a refurbishment of the building in 2016.
In a statement, Rydon said:
“Rydon completed a refurbishment of the building in the summer of 2016 for KTCMO (Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation) on behalf of the Council, which met all required building control, fire regulation and health & safety standards. We will cooperate with the relevant authorities and emergency services and fully support their inquiries into the causes of this fire at the appropriate time.”
However, critical of the refurbishment work done by Rydon, was a blog by a group known as the Grenfell Action Group, who highlighted the ongoing issues with the Grenfell Tower in a post, hauntingly named: KCTMO - Playing with fire!
The post seems to predict that the Grenfell Tower would eventually suffer a catastrophic event due to fire safety, and other health and safety legislation not being followed. An excerpt of the post reads:
“It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believes that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
They go on to say:
“It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”
The action group and residents pointed out that there was only one entrance and exit to the Grenfell Tower, asserting that a fire at the entry/exit point would mean that there would be no escape route for residents. In 10 separate blog posts, the group warned that a fire would have incredibly catastrophic consequences on the Grenfell Tower.
The Daily Mail has pointed to the rain-proof cladding being the main factor contributing to the speed at which the fire spread through the building. A similar cladding controversy was highlighted in the United Arab Emirates back in 2016, when skyscrapers in Dubai were burning faster due to bad construction practices and decisions of engineers.
The fire in North Kensington took 30 minutes to engulf almost the entire building. Buildings with similar cladding and fire escape set ups are now being studied to gauge whether or not they could survive similar fates. Residents have told reporters that the fire alarm - that purportedly did go off in the area - was too soft to hear. Two facts seem to have contributed to the deaths: residents weren’t adequately alerted to the fire and then there was the fire’s ferocity.
The residents of the Grenfell allegedly tried to pressure their landlords into installing sprinkler systems in the building; the request was reportedly shot down by KCTMO.
An anonymous fire systems engineer, who writes under the moniker randomfireengineer, on the popular social media site Reddit, writes:
“I install and maintain fire systems in the London area, trust me 1000 engineers woke up this morning like I did [expletive] themselves. I know at least three of the four tower blocks I maintain where the fire systems are just as bad and nothing has been done to fix them. Death traps waiting to happen.”
If this is indeed true, London’s ineffective fire-proofing of buildings will become frightening case studies for fire protection civil engineers. Furthermore, civil engineering standards and practices in England are sure to undergo scrutiny as the investigation into the Grenfell Tower fire proceeds.
Grenfell Tower. Web. 14 June 2017.
Reporter, Martin Robinson Uk Chief. "'Nobody on the Top Three Floors Survived: Six Dead and Dozens Missing as Massive Blaze 'sparked by Faulty Fridge' Engulfs 27-storey Tower Block in Just 15 Minutes: Residents Hurl Themselves from Windows While Others Make Ropes from Sheets." Daily Mail Online. Associated Newspapers, 14 June 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.
Tmg. "Grenfell Tower Blaze in Pictures: Firefighters Tackle Massive Fire at West London Block of Flats." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, 14 June 2017. Web. 14 June 2017.