Belfast Telegraph

London fire: Health and safety checks to be carried out at Northern Ireland tower blocks in response to Grenfell inferno

Northern Ireland residents have expressed concerns following London blaze

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland's Housing Executive has said it is undertaking health and safety inspections of each of its 32 tower blocks following a tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London which claimed the lives of at least six people.

Police said the number of fatalities is likely to rise and that 20 people are in a critical condition after the huge blaze destroyed a tower block in west London. The massive blaze engulfed the block of flats in the west of the capital. The ambulance service confirmed 50 people were taken to five hospitals across the capital city.

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Following the tragedy, Ulster Unionist party councillor Sonia Copeland said she received calls from concerned residents who want assurances about the safety of the tower blocks which they live in.

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As a result UUP MLA Andy Allen and councillor Copeland contacted the Northern Ireland Housing Executive to ensure that tower blocks in Northern Ireland were safe for residents.

In response the Northern Ireland Housing Executive confirmed it was undertaking health and safety inspections of each block.

A spokesman said: “Our thoughts are with the victims, their families and all those affected by the fire in Grenfell, London, this morning. We want to reassure our tenants that their safety is taken extremely seriously across the Housing Executive.

“We have robust fire safety regimes and carry out regular inspections in all of our 32 tower blocks.

“In light of the fire in Grenfell, today we are undertaking health and safety inspections of each block.

“We are currently refurbishing three tower blocks in Belfast and completed one last year.

“We want to reassure tenants that any cladding systems which have been installed or are being installed are required to comply with the relevant fire safety regulations.

“Kensington and Chelsea Council has confirmed that an investigation into the cause of the fire will be undertaken. We will of course take on board any relevant findings that come out of this investigation.”

UUP MLA Andy Allen added: "The fire at Grenfell Tower in the early hours of this morning has led to fatalities, people being rushed to hospital and for residents to flee their homes. My heartfelt sympathy goes to those who have been affected by this tragedy.

“With a number of tower blocks in Belfast recently refurbished or currently undergoing refurbishment, I have contacted the Northern Ireland Housing Executive so people can be assured that any materials used for the cladding, insulation and general renovation of tower blocks do not present a fire hazard.

"I have also inquired about what fire suppression measures are installed in tower blocks in Northern Ireland. The safety of residents is absolutely paramount, and it is vital that they are not put at risk.”

Councillor Sonia Copeland said: "One cannot help but be deeply disturbed and shocked by the scenes from London regarding the fire at Grenfell Tower overnight. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have been caught up in this terrible incident. This morning I have received calls from concerned residents who want assurances about the safety of the tower blocks which they live in.

"I have been in contact with the Northern Ireland Housing Executive this morning, who have informed me that as a result of the events in London, extra security checks have been put in place.

“While this is reassuring I await to hear if the materials being used in refurbishments are completely safe, and I will be in touch with the Housing Executive over the coming days.”

A Northern Ireland Fire Service spokeswoman moved to reassure people of how rare such incidents are.

"We are providing fire safety advice for anyone concerned and living in a high-rise building," she said.

“We carry out regular visits to high-rise buildings in across Northern Ireland and our firefighters are routinely involved in training exercises to respond to incidents in these types of buildings."

Advice for people living in high-rise accommodation

Pre Planning

Check if your building has a fire policy which will advise you on a specific fire safety plan for that building in the event of a fire - this will determine your emergency plan.  High-rise buildings are designed to resist fire, stop the spread of smoke and provide a safe means of escape. Your building’s fire policy may dictate that you remain in your flat during an incident unless you are directly affected by the fire.

Make an escape plan so that you and your family are fully prepared if there is a fire in your flat.  Tell your family what the escape plan is, and where the door key is. Practice what you would do if you had a real fire.

Make sure stairways and fire escapes are kept clear of all obstructions and that fire doors are never locked.

Regularly walk escape routes and check that you can open the doors to stairways from both sides.

Never tamper with internal fire mains (dry riser) inlets on landings. These provide water to firefighters when there’s an emergency. It could cost lives if they’re not working properly when there’s a fire.

If you see a dry riser vandalised or damaged, report it immediately to the manager of the building.

Never use or store bottled gas cylinders in high-rise flats.

Never park or block access to high-rise flats. Access roads are designed so that Fire Appliances can get as close as possible to fight fires.

In the Event of a Fire

Dial 999 and follow your building’s fire policy.  

If the fire is in your flat follow your escape plan and dial 999. You won’t be able to use the lift if there’s a fire so choose an escape route that takes this into account.

Never assume that someone else has called 999. Make sure your neighbours know about the fire. Bang on their doors on your way out.

If it is too dangerous to follow your escape route because the stairs and hallways are filled with smoke, ring 999 and stay inside the safest room. Keep the door closed and use towels or bedding at the bottom of the door to block the smoke.

If you become trapped in your flat due to heat or smoke try and stay calm.

Pack blankets or clothes around the door to keep smoke out and dial 999.

Hang a towel or similar item out of the window to let Firefighters know your location when they arrive.

If there's a fire elsewhere in the building, you are usually safest in your own flat, unless heat or smoke is affecting you – in this instance if you can escape safely you should get out and stay out and dial 999.

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