Making London’s tower blocks safer

The Surefire team is currently involved in a major ongoing project for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council (RBKC) to increase the level of fire protection in residential tower blocks.  We were originally approached by the Borough in 2019 to undertake an ambitious fire safety programme focusing on passive fire protection measures centred on communal stairways.

Making London’s tower blocks saferSurefire has had many years of experience of working with local authorities and public sector bodies, covering all fire safety areas of risk assessment, fire detection, suppression and control in both residential and public buildings. RBKC demonstrated a high degree of knowledge about the value of effective fire protection measures and we were delighted to be able to offer our advice and support.

A key aspect of these particular installations has been to protect residents from smoke hazards arising from the lower levels of the building. These not only cause dangers to respiratory health but also reduce visibility levels, potentially causing panic and accidents amongst residents being evacuated. to ensure the safe and ordered evacuation of the building before the arrival of the Fire Services, passive fire protection can play a vital role.

Safeguarding bin chutes

To date, we have installed Curtain Fire & Smoke Dampers at 21 residential tower blocks throughout the RKBC area. Fire dampers are designed to prevent fire spreading through ducts, walls, floors and ceilings and are also a highly effective means of preventing smoke from travelling upwards.

The Borough’s fire safety team foresaw that there could be a significant incident if a fire was to start in the basement bin area of a tower block. If this were to happen, then the bin chute would act as a chimney, sending smoke up the communal stairway. To prevent this, we have installed fire dampers at the bottom of the bin chute of each of these residential tower blocks.

If a bin catches fire, then the fire damper will seal off automatically to prevent smoke from travelling up the bin chute.

The sealing process is activated when temperatures rise above ambient levels so that the fire damper closes via a thermal element which melts at temperatures that indicate the presence of a fire.  This operates a spring mechanism that will close the damper blades that provide the seal. These high-performance FD Series solutions are CE marked to offer up to 120 minutes fire resistance.

Letting the smoke escape

Letting the smoke escapeAnother part of Surefire’s work for Kensington and Chelsea Council was centred on one residential tower block. This followed another type of proven fire safety strategy that has shown itself to be equally effective in the past. It is important that every fire protection measure is tailored to the building where the installation is carried out and in the case of these residential tower blocks, smoke louvres at the top of communal stairwells provided the ideal solutions.

Smoke travels upwards, and if there is no means by which it can escape outside it will gather and increase in density, causing hazards to health and risks to controlled and ordered evacuation. By removing panes of glass from windows at the top of the stairwells in these tower blocks, we installed the louvres to allow the smoke to exit the area.

The Smoke Louvres that were selected are made of lightweight aluminium and are particularly invaluable where space is at a premium. They were the most appropriate installations for these particular buildings and their internal configurations.

The value of shared experience

Fire protection, to be fully effective, requires the ability to accurately understand the levels of risk existing within a building and its component parts. But the prime concern must be to safeguard its occupants and anticipate their level of vulnerability in the event of fire breaking out.

This means that it is not simply good enough to provide a range of fire safety equipment, however good its quality may be. The knowledge of how people will react in an emergency and how to combat their potential panic is of vital importance.

Simon Morriss, Fire Safety Operations Manager (RBKC), commented on the mutual benefits of our relationship. “Surefire has worked for over three decades in the fire safety sector, and their experience and expertise have been invaluable to Kensington and Chelsea Council. In turn, they have frequently expressed their appreciation for the commitment and attention to detail demonstrated by our fire safety team.”

He added that: “The learning process works both ways and we look forward working in partnership with Surefire on this important and comprehensive project.”