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Grenfell Tower: Fire safety, the Council and You

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Ipswich Borough Council has received many enquiries about fire safety in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

We have created this FAQs page to help you find out the information you need in one place.

However, we have included links to information provided by the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service, which is available on the Suffolk County Council website.

Is Ipswich Borough Council reviewing its fire safety plans?

Yes. The Grenfell Tower fire in London on 14th June prompted the Council, like other local authorities, to review fire protection arrangements for its housing stock and more generally across the Borough.

Approved Document B (Fire Safety) of current Building Regulations stipulates that all buildings with a height of 18m or more above ground level shall have external wall construction materials of limited combustibility.

How many tower blocks does the Council own?
 
Our first priority in the wake of the tragedy was on the 12-storey Cumberland Towers, the only tower block we own. Our general needs housing is in four-storey buildings or less.
 
Has Cumberland Towers been inspected?
 
Yes. It was inspected by a Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service and the Ipswich and East Suffolk Building Control team on 20th June. This did not raise fire safety concerns. An independent Fire Risk Assessment was already in place.

Since the Cumberland Towers Fire Safety Risk Assessment was carried out in March 2017 there have been a number of updates to improve fire safety still further and to reassure tenants. Read more.

 
Is Cumberland Towers different in construction from Grenfell Tower?
 
Yes. It is of a completely different construction and all the external structural work (cladding, window openings etc.) taking place as part of the building’s refurbishment meets all fire safety and building control requirements.
 
Is cladding being applied to Cumberland Towers?
 
The cladding at Grenfell Tower was aluminium composite cladding with an air gap between it and the main building fabric. The Cumberland Towers cladding is mineral wool applied to the face of the building, finished with render. This has a high fire protection rating and has BS476-6 and BS476-7 certification.

The Council has consulted Government (Department for Communities and Local Government) and BRE (the company working for the Government to test cladding) and they have confirmed that there is no need for the mineral wool cladding to be tested as it is known not to be combustible.
 
What about buildings below 18 metres?

Low-rise buildings are not, under current Building Regulations, subject to the more stringent fire safety requirements for the use of cladding materials.

However, as a precaution the Council is reviewing all cladding on all the blocks of flats it owns to consider whether further work could be done to further improve fire safety.
 
What fire protection systems are in place at Cumberland Towers?

There are many measures in place including:

  • A modern addressable / digital fire detection system that alerts the Council and the Fire Service in short time of an incident. The detection is smoke-activated so is more sensitive and would be picked up earlier than heat. This system has been installed in the past three years so it meets all the current detection standards. This applies to all the communal areas and all the flats;
  • Weekly checks of fire protection systems, signage, escape routes and fire doors. When the fire alarm sounds it sends two messages down two separate telephone lines to ensure the message is received. One is to a monitoring company and one to the Council’s main control. They are both under instruction to telephone the Fire Service when a call is received. This process is tested intentionally monthly;
  • Cumberland Towers is compartmentalised both between and across the floors with one-hour fire rated doors in communal areas. These doors are held back by magnets that release when the fire alarm sounds and the doors close;
  • Tenants' front doors are fire rated;
  • Emergency lighting is in place throughout the building.

What measures are you taking in your sheltered schemes?

The Council manages 15 sheltered housing schemes.

The schemes already have very good fire alarm and smoke detection systems in place and some have heat detectors in communal kitchens. We will also be installing heat detectors in the communal kitchens of schemes that don’t presently have them to complement the smoke detectors. All schemes have up to date fire risk assessments in place.
 
In Cumberland Towers, we have already upgraded the letter boxes with a better fire-retardant product and we are looking at the feasibility of installing a heat sensor sprinkler system.
 
Has any council owned block of flats been found to have a Category 1 hazard under the Housing Health and Safety Rating Scheme (HHSRS)?

No

How many buildings in Ipswich have been inspected?

As from 17th July, all residential buildings of five storeys and above have been inspected as part of a Suffolk-wide inspection programme.

How many buildings over 18 metres high are there in Ipswich?

Forty two. All are in private ownership apart from Cumberland Towers (Ipswich Borough Council) and the Maternity Block at Ipswich Hospital (Ipswich Hospital Trust).

A full list of buildings can be found here.

How many of these Ipswich buildings have cladding similar to Grenfell Tower?

One building has been identified which has some aluminum composite cladding on part of its building. Suffolk Fire and Rescue and the Ipswich and East Building Control team are working with the “Responsible Person” for that building to consider what action, if any needs to be taken to improve safety.
 
It should be remembered that the presence of aluminum composite cladding does not by itself render a building unsafe.

How much has Ipswich Borough Council spent on checking buildings for fire safety and testing cladding following the Grenfell Tower fire?

The Council has spent £1,327 on voluntary checks on previously installed external wall insulation / cladding.

Have you contacted private sector landlords and housing associations?
 
The Council has sent a letter to 600 private landlords and agents, advising them of their responsibilities as owners or agents of Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMOs). Responsibility for fire safety rests with them, not with the Fire & Rescue Service or the Ipswich and East Building Control service.
 
Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service and Ipswich and East Building Control are also liaising with housing associations across Suffolk.
 
Do you have an evacuation policy for Cumberland Towers?

Fire Service advice is for tenants to remain in their flats until instructed to leave by the Fire Service (with the exception of the flat where the fire starts).

This is particularly important in the context of Cumberland Towers, with some residents being elderly (the current age range of tenants is 59 – 90 years) or having mobility issues, although no current tenant is fully immobile. All Cumberland Towers tenants are provided with evacuation guidance as part of their “Welcome Pack”. This sets out the “Stay Put” policy detailed elsewhere on this web page.
 
Each flat in Cumberland Towers has a minimum of 60 minutes fire protection and residents are connected to the HEARS system, enabling them to be in contact with Council staff throughout this period.
 
Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service continues to use Cumberland Towers for regular training exercises.
 
Is this 'stay put' safe if I live in an ordinary flat?

When a fire occurs within your flat, you should make your away out of the building and call 999. All other residents are expected to 'stay put' and stay in their flat unless it's unsafe to do so or directed by the emergency service.
 
More information on fire safety in purpose-built flats:

What should residents of neighbouring properties do if there is a fire at Cumberland Towers?

Neighbours of any property that is on fire should ring 999 to report the fire and seek advice from the Suffolk Fire & Rescue Services. This is likely to include staying indoors and closing windows if it is safe to do so (unless your property is physically joined to the property on fire) until you hear otherwise from the emergency services. If an evacuation of neighbouring properties is required then the emergency services will co-ordinate this. Should you however consider that your safety is compromised then you are advised to relocate to a place of safety.
 
What about fire safety in schools?
 
As a matter of good practice, Suffolk County Council is recommending that all schools review their Fire Risk Assessments.
 
What should I do if there is a fire in my home?
 
Suffolk Fire & Rescue Service advice is:
 
If a fire starts in your house get out, stay out and dial 999 and ask for the Fire & Rescue Service.
If you call 999 give:

  • the operator your full address
  • details of building on fire, for example a two-storey house
  • details of anyone trapped in the building and the room they are in

What you need to do when a fire starts:

It is important that everyone in your house knows what to do should a fire occur.
If you hear a smoke alarm or discover a fire:

  • try not to panic
  • tell everyone in the house
  • using your pre-planned escape route, get everyone out of the building as quickly as possible
  • smoke rises so stay low or crawl on the floor in the cleaner air where it's easier to breathe
  • don't stop to collect any valuables or possessions
  • don't stop to look for pets
  • if possible, close the door to the room where the fire is located and close all doors behind you as you leave (to delay the spread of fire and smoke)
  • before opening a closed door, touch it with the back of your hand; don't open it if feels warm - the fire will be on the other side
  • don't go back into the building
  • find somewhere safe near the building and wait for the fire service to arrive
  • if someone is still inside the building, tell the fire service and give details
  • don't go back into the building; you'll prevent the fire service from doing what they need to do and put your own life at risk, too

How can I reduce the risk of fire in my home?
 
For advice on how to reduce the risk of fire in your home
 
Who should I contact for further information about fire safety in my flat?

In the first instance contact the premises management company of your block of flats.
Or contact and ask for the Duty Fire Safety Officer below:
• Email Fire.BusinessSupport@suffolk.gov.uk
Call 01473 260588; 9am - 5pm, Monday to Thursday and 9am - 4pm, Friday