Fatal fires, like at Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London, will continue to happen while fire safety engineers continue to question the life-saving merits of the most effective smoke control solution
It’s time for the debating to stop and for action to take priority over industry politics.
Because, in the event of a fire, people in high-rise residential and commercial office blocks have a right to expect a clear exit route that isn’t blocked by smoke.
The accepted best way to achieve this is by pressurisation. It’s the only system where the basis of the design is to prevent smoke from entering the escape route in the first place. And in older buildings, like Lakanal House, even adding a simplified pressurisation or powered extraction system would measurably improve safety. How better is that for both occupants and firefighters?
Yet, even for new buildings, so-called experts still debate the advantages of natural ventilation – where the idea is to allow smoke to get into the escape or entry route…and then be ventilated. This is generally accepted as less reliable, and is under review, but is still allowed in modern residential building regulations. It’s time for that to change – because people usually die in smoke, not fire.
And surely it’s possible, when major refurbishments are planned for older residential blocks like Lakanal House, for authorities to carry out wider-ranging fire risk assessments and include better smoke control systems, for a relatively small cost, instead of spending on cosmetics like repairing and painting walls.
New residential developments, however, can be designed with fully pressurised systems, even though the new British Standard 9999, which came into force in April, so far only requires this for commercial properties over 30 metres high.
But how does a fire know the type of building it’s destroying or what kind of occupants are inside?
Jim Wild, Fire Engineering Associates, Manchester
Electrical and Mechanical Contractor