Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service
146 Bolton Road
Tel: 0161 736 5866
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In response to questions and concerns from the public following the Grenfell Tower fire, we have pulled together a number of frequently asked questions. These will be regularly reviewed and updated.
Has the GMFRS policy changed following this incident?
No, the approach adopted by GMFRS remains the same.
If you have a fire or become aware of a fire in your home, which includes blocks of flats, you should get out, stay out and call us out.
If you live in a block of flats where your landlord has advised you to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire, this is their advice which will be based on an individual fire risk assessment for that building.
What happened at Grenfell Tower?
The cause of this fire is subject to an investigation. The investigation will determine origin, spread and fire development and any subsequent learning.
In Greater Manchester, a High Rise Task Force, led by Salford City Mayor Paul Dennett has been set up to provide fire safety reassurance, building by building, across Greater Manchester. The taskforce includes landlords of tower blocks across the city region in both private and public ownership, as well as representatives from every local authority in Greater Manchester and other specialist officers who can offer support to ensure every high rise is safe and receives the right fire safety advice. Find out more about the work of the Taskforce.
High-rise fire safety:
Why is there normally no common fire alarm throughout the building?
A common fire alarm system is designed to alert everyone within a building at the same time. Where a building is designed to support a ‘stay put’ approach the staircases aren’t generally wide enough to support a simultaneous evacuation of the entire building. Alarm systems in these types of buildings are generally to open smoke ventilation systems in order to keep the common areas free of smoke for people escaping and our own crews to gain access to fight a fire.
Each flat will have their own stand-alone detection and alarm, which should alert the occupants of the affected flat in the event of fire occurring within that flat. This alarm will not normally be linked to any other area of the block.
There are other areas such as undercover car parks which may have detection and alarm system but again will not normally be linked to any other part of the block. Any detectors within the common corridors or staircases are likely to be there to activate any ventilation system but will not be designed to sound a warning.
What levels of fire resistance should be in between flats?
If correctly designed and maintained, individual flats should be separated from each other with materials that will resist fires for a minimum of 60 minutes. This should allow sufficient time for the occupants of the affected flat to escape without other flats and escape routes becoming affected. This should also allow sufficient time for the Fire and Rescue Service to extinguish the fire.
How do changes to a building over time affect firefighting and fire safety?
Fire Risk Assessments should identify issues like this, and measures put in place to mitigate. Following Grenfell, a number of housing providers are now carrying out more detailed risk assessments.
GMFRS fire safety specialists have carried out compliance inspections of all high-rise blocks, and fire crews have visited every high rise to check and update our Operational Information System [OIS] which holds information on the layout, access to a building in case of a fire.
Where issues with fire compartmentation have been identified, action is being taken to ensure remedial maintenance is being undertaken.
Will the fire and rescue service have big enough ladders to be able to rescue me?
The fire and rescue service carry different sizes of ladders and aerial ladder platforms to carry out rescues. The aerial ladder platforms can extend 27.8m from the ground (depending upon circumstances) and is effective in rescuing from higher floors.
Buildings should be designed so that the fire and rescue service can carry out rescues from within the building. In normal circumstances, during a fire within a flat communal corridors and staircases should smoke free allowing firefighters to carry out rescues from within the building.
We have also reviewed our protocol regarding how many appliances are initially sent to an incident. Prior to Grenfell, we would initially send four appliances to a high rise fire where there is nobody reported as trapped. This would increase to five appliances where somebody has been reported as trapped. Following Grenfell, we have reviewed this and these appliances will now be supplemented with an aerial appliance.
Is the external cladding system safe?
There are numerous types of cladding systems available that provide rain screens and thermal insulation. If you are concerned about a system installed on your premises you are advised to discuss with your housing provider who should be able to advise on the cladding system that has been installed.
Has the cladding system been approved?
Again, there are numerous types of cladding systems in use for rain screens and to provide thermal insulation to buildings. Your housing provider should be able to advise you on the type of cladding system used and the approvals process carried out by the relevant building control body.
How many tower blocks across Greater Manchester have already had the cladding tested and how long before you are satisfied that all blocks have been examined?
In Greater Manchester we have approximately 480 high rise residential premises. DCLG have informed us of 69 premises that have failed the Building Research Establishment (BRE) fire tests.
We have now inspected every high rise in Greater Manchester to ensure it complies with fire safety regulations and reassure residents. Fire safety officers are now revisiting those blocks where compliance issues have been identified to ensure that the agreed actions are being carried out and any interim measures remain in place.
How many buildings have been visited across Greater Manchester?
We have now carried out a compliance visit in every high rise in Greater Manchester. A total compliance visit is undertaken by fire safety officers to ensure full compliance with the relevant regulations. Fire safety officers are now revisiting those blocks where compliance issues have been identified to ensure that the agreed actions are being carried out and any interim measures remain in place.
Firefighters have also visited every high rise to complete an OIS (operational information system) visits. An operational information system visit is where crews will familiarise themselves with the building – its layout and emergency systems.
How many tower blocks have got failed cladding in terms of its fire resistance?
We have been informed of 69 premises that have failed the Building Research Establishment (BRE) fire test.
We are also aware that some cladding systems have passed the Government’s large-scale fire safety tests. More information regarding the tests and advice from the Expert Panel can be found on the DCLG website.
How many tower blocks have used flammable materials, against regulations, above the 80-metre height restriction?
Within Building Regulations, 18m is the height at which additional measures are required.
The Building Regulations require that such systems, when installed on residential buildings over 18 metres high, should be of ‘limited combustibility’ and have a surface spread of flame classification of 0 (i.e. it shouldn’t support the spread of flame). These requirements are set out in ‘Approved Document B, Volume 2 – Buildings Other than Dwellinghouses’.
British Standard 8414 allows for the fire performance testing of external cladding systems. As stated above, the requirement of the building regulations is that such systems when fitted to residential buildings over 18m high, should be of limited combustibility.
We do not know how many blocks have what type of external facades as GMFRS are not the enforcing authority with regard to the Building Regulations.
What is a fire safety audit?
A Fire Safety audit – also known as a Fire Safety Compliance Inspection - is a visit made by a Fire Service Inspector for the purposes of checking whether a building complies with Fire Safety regulations and is fire safe.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service may visit a premises and undertake a Fire Safety Compliance Inspection, usually prearranged. All fire safety inspectors will be in uniform and carry identification.
The fire safety audit is an examination of the premises and relevant documents to ascertain how the premises are being managed with regards to fire safety.
The emphasis is on checking that duty holders can demonstrate how they are meeting their legal duties. In a workplace, the inspector may also wish to talk to members of staff to confirm their level of fire safety awareness.
Where applicable to the premises the inspector would expect to view documentary evidence - these documents can help demonstrate that a duty holder is fully complying with the law. Such documents include:
- The significant findings of the Fire Risk Assessment
- Records of Staff Training and Fire Drills
- Records of Testing and Maintenance of Fire-fighting Equipment
- Records of Testing and Maintenance for all Fire Safety Systems including Fire Alarms and Emergency Lighting
Where a failure to comply with fire safety legislation is found, the inspector will decide what action to take. The action will depend on the nature of the breach and will be based on the principles set out in the Authority’s published Fire Safety Regulation Policy and the Regulator’s Code.
Have Building Regulations been applied across Greater Manchester in the same way or have you found any variation in the interpretation from one authority to another?
Unfortunately, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) cannot supply this information. GMFRS are not the enforcing authority with regard to Building Regulations.
Within Greater Manchester there is an Association of Greater Manchester Authorities Building Control Group which represents the Local Authority Building Controls across Greater Manchester. However the Building Control sector was opened up to wider competition and there are now private Approved Inspectors who can undertake the work.
How many tower blocks were not built with the fire breaks in place, as appears to have been the case in Grenfell thereby allowing the fire to travel up chimneys?
Unfortunately, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) cannot supply this information. As set out in the previous answer, GMFRS are not the enforcing authority with regard to Building Regulations.
Have potential issues regarding poor water pressure and radio problems been investigated in Greater Manchester?
In Greater Manchester, we have an existing arrangement with United Utilities to boost water pressure if needed, subject to the size of the main which the hydrants are on. We also have Hose Laying Lorries which can convey water over long distances.
In addition, we also have high volume pumps that can be set in open water (e.g. rivers, lakes) and can pump a large quantity of water over significant distances.
As part of our compliance inspections of high rise blocks, we have checked dry-risers are in place, and they are well maintained and serviced. Getting people out of the building safely is a priority, and to ensure the building is good enough that we’re fighting the fire within one flat, and that fire remains contained, so we don’t need large amounts of water.
With regards to radios, GMFRS has recently invested in new digital radios and is currently trailing new noise-cancelling microphones.
What steps are being taken to ensure that we have fire platforms in Greater Manchester which can reach higher floors than those available in London?
Prior to the fire at Grenfell Tower, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) had reviewed its existing aerial appliance provision. Currently GMFRS operate six aerial appliances, known as Hydraulic Platforms, which have a maximum working height of 27.8 metres.
Following an extensive review and procurement exercise an order has been placed for two new aerial appliances within this financial year, with a further two to be delivered in the following years. The new aerial appliances are known as Turntable Ladders (TL), with the initial two TLs having a maximum working height of 32m and 42m. Although the maximum working height has increased, the 42m TL would be able, in ideal conditions, to reach the 14th floor of a high rise premises.
Within the UK the 42m aerial appliances are the largest in service. Globally there are some countries that have bigger aerial appliances, mainly in an industrial setting, but it is unlikely they would be able to reach the 23rd storey and manoeuvrability in an urban environment is difficult due to the sheer size of the vehicles.
Has GMFRS got the resources to deal with an incident similar to what happened at Grenfell Tower?
While not on the scale of Grenfell, GMFRS has effectively responded to major fires in the past. We also have mutual aid agreements in place with neighbouring services who can provide us with additional resources if needed.
We also have a tower block scenario at our training centre in Bury, which is utilised by all operational firefighters across Greater Manchester.
We are also focusing our work on prevention, and have recently recruited additional fire enforcement officers to assist with the high rise work. We are also offering residents a Safe and Well visit, which assesses fire risk and takes into account factors such as health and wellbeing, and crime prevention.
However, the fire and rescues service has suffered cuts over recent years, and this is something we will be raising with the Government as part of Greater Manchester’s response to the Grenfell Tower Public Inquiry and Independent Building Regulations and Fire Safety Review.
What steps are being taken to ensure that all firefighters use the training facility in Bury, which has a tower block scenario, because clearly the numbers involved in the fire in London required team from across the capital and outside who may not have worked in this type of fire?
The service training facility at Bury is utilised by all operational firefighters across Greater Manchester, with the mandatory training which is called operational licence training. GMFRS are one of the first services across the UK to launch an operational licence training.
The operational licence allows the service to design training based on significant local and national events. It has been recognised for many years that high rise firefighting is complex and arduous, which is why a high rise facility was a key design requirement.
In addition to the training that is undertaken at the facility in Bury, local training is undertaken as part of a maintenance of skills programme that is overseen by the Station and Watch Managers at every station across Greater Manchester.
As well as this training, GMFRS has a system known as the Operational Information System, where local firefighters capture risk information about certain premises including high rise premises that allows firefighters to utilise information en-route or at an operational incident involving high rise premises. Following the tragic incident at Grenfell Tower local crews have been reviewing this information.
Finally, even though the number of high rise premises is more prevalent in Manchester and Salford, all other local authority areas across Greater Manchester have some high rise premises which local operational crews attend incidents at.
If you have any concerns about the safety of your building you can email email@example.com for more information or ring 0800 555815. You can also find more information and advice on your local authority or housing provider’s website. Useful links are below.