NOTE: This is a developing situation. The content below may be periodically updated to reflect the latest information available.
Today marks the first anniversary of the Grenfell Tower fire. In a rather twisted turn of fate and timing, my development suffered a fire last night. Luckily, no one was harmed and the blaze was contained to the 13th floor by the fire suppression system (an essential feature that should be included in all new builds) and the excellent work of the London Fire Brigade.
More chillingly, not a single building alarm is so far reported to have been sounded. The only reason people got out so quickly was because of neighbours and other members of the community shouting up from the street and going door to door in the building alerting people. The reason for this is unclear at the moment. Current fire regulations for purpose-built flats do not require communal alarm systems, mainly because the combination of the sprinkler system and design of the flats should be adequate for containment. In addition, full evacuation might impede fire fighting units from ascending to put out the fire.
This being said, the police officer in charge is reported to have asked that a manual evacuation alarm be triggered to facilitate a total evacuation of the building. Whether such an alarm was triggered, and if so, why it did not sound, will be a matter for any investigation stemming from this fire. In addition, low lighting has been observed in the stairwells that might hinder any such evacuation.
More broadly, fire and general safety continues to be neglected by some of those constructing and managing flats in London, even after the awful events at Grenfell Tower last year. A few are simply building ever higher and shoddier accommodations, with the sole purpose of a quick sale and little regard for the well-being of residents. This must stop now and those responsible held accountable.
My work in the housing sector has convinced me that if the Grenfell Tower Inquiry does not result in concrete changes, then it will be up to us, the citizens of the city, to take direct action to ensure that such neglect is never allowed to happen again.
For now, there are a few things you can do to protect yourself and your family:
- Make sure to regularly test your fire alarms to ensure that they are fully operational and able to warn you in case of a fire.
- If you live in a block of flats, find out about the fire plan that’s specific to your building. If you live in a single-family home, make sure you have a fire action plan and that everybody knows what to do in case a blaze starts.
- If you notice potential breaches of safety in your building, immediately reach out to your building manager or owner. If the problems are not fixed, be sure to report them to the relevant authorities.
- Join or form a Local or Student Action Committee in your area to campaign for the basic needs and rights of your community with Citizen State’s backing. To find out how, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Today, my heart is with the people of Grenfell Tower, who have suffered and lost so much and yet persevere in their commitment to answers and justice. At Citizen State, we hope and insist that the rights of these brave survivors and the community as a whole are upheld, so that nothing like this is ever allowed to happen again. The struggle continues, but truth and integrity will prevail.