London Fire Brigade report into New Providence Wharf Fire highlights serious fire safety issues and prompts warnings to building owners and managers
By Siobhan McCoy, Senior Consultant
The London Fire Brigade (LFB) have published their preliminary report into last month’s fire at New Providence Wharf. It confirms that the fire started in an electrical consumer unit in an 8th floor flat and travelled out of an open balcony window. The fire then spread up a number of floors on the outside of the building from the timber balcony on the flat of origin. The building was clad in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM), although this hasn’t significantly contributed to the external spread of the fire.
Much more concerning was that the smoke also poured into the corridor of the building through a flat entrance door that had remained open (the occupier thinks they may have inadvertently knocked something into the doorway as they left the flat) and the smoke detectors have then failed to operate the Automatic Opening Vent (AOV) and the cross corridor fire doors. As a result the area didn’t ventilate, and smoke flowed through the common parts of the 8th floor (and subsequently beyond) making it difficult/impossible for persons on this floor to escape safely. This also increased the challenges and risks for firefighting and search and rescue operations within the building.
LFB have described the broken ventilation system as acting like a ‘broken chimney’, which left residents’ only escape route smoke logged. There were 35 rescues during the fire, 22 involving escape hoods, with reports on the day of the fire of some residents on balconies awaiting rescue.
LFB has therefore issued the following warnings and reminders following the publication of their report:
- those responsible for high rise buildings, especially those that no longer support a stay put strategy, should check their fire safety measures including smoke ventilation systems (such as AOVs) as a priority; these should be regularly inspected and any issues acted upon.
- building owners and managers must check the materials used on external balconies and consider whether they could contribute to the spread of fire, and if necessary modify them as soon as possible – this is in line with government advice issued in 2020, which states that balconies should not assist fire spread along external walls, and with the Fire Safety Act 2021 which amends the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 to clarify that external walls includes balconies and are therefore included within the building owner/ duty-holder’s duty to manage and reduce risk of fire and must be considered within Fire Risk Assessments.
LFB’s Deputy Commissioner has described the fire at New Providence Wharf as an urgent wake-up call to all building owners and managers, urging them to look at the fire safety solutions inside their buildings and take action if they are not performing correctly. His warning that ‘it is too late to wait for a fire to see if they work’ will be resonating with many who are responsible for such buildings.
It is also worth noting that investigations are continuing into the consumer unit to ascertain the cause of the fire. The report refers to ‘the lack of available record keeping in relation to testing of these units’, suggesting that the building owner may not have had a periodic electrical testing regime in place. There were also reports at the time of the fire that the waking watch that was in place did not alert residents to the fire; LFB’s report indicates that an employee in the building who had been alerted to the fire, and then travelled up to the 8th floor before then evacuating, alerted the waking watch personnel to the fire upon meeting them as they left the building.
LFB are continuing to investigate possible breaches of fire safety regulations at the building at the time of the fire, so it is likely that there will be further lessons to be learned from this fire and how the building was being managed. The question for any building owners or managers reading this is whether you can confidently answer all of the questions the key findings from this fire raises for your buildings. We are here to help with advice on all these areas, including fire risk assessments, checking your fire detection systems, periodic electrical testing and other compliance and building safety advice.
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