Belfast Telegraph

Sprinklers 'should be compulsory' in Northern Ireland tower blocks

By Victoria Leonard

A retired firefighter with 35 years' experience is calling for legislation to make sprinklers compulsory in Northern Ireland's tower blocks after it emerged that none were installed in any of the Housing Executive's 32 high-rises.

Paul Burns, who began his career with the Northern Ireland Fire Auxiliary in 1961, believes the installation of sprinklers "could have saved lives" in Grenfell Tower in London, and would also protect residents should a similar situation occur here. The death toll in the London tragedy is currently 30, but is expected to rise significantly.

None of the NI Housing Executive's high-rises, built in the 1960s and 1970s, have sprinklers, which the organisation says "are not required by building control or fire regulations".

Several online petitions have been launched to make the installation of sprinklers in high-rise buildings compulsory in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster, with one attracting more than 130,000 signatures to date.

"I think there has to be a law change to put sprinklers in high-rise buildings, and if they had been fitted in Grenfell Tower they would undoubtedly have saved lives," Mr Burns told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I also believe that the cladding on the outside of Grenfell Tower is partly to blame.

"Unfortunately, I have a lot of experience in tackling hundreds of fires in high-rise flats in London, but when we were fighting them they had no external cladding - they had cast concrete or pebble-dash fascias, which don't burn or pose an external threat.

"In the case of other tower blocks with cladding, the first thing I would be looking at is the specification of the cladding and what tests it had been put through.

"If I was living in a high-rise building in Northern Ireland, I would also be asking when the last time was that there had been a mass evacuation exercise."

Yesterday the NIHE told the Belfast Telegraph it "cannot comment" on whether the cladding used on its tower blocks is made of the same material as that which was used on Grenfell Tower "until the official report into the Grenfell Tower fire has been published".

When asked if the cladding on NIHE tower blocks is completely fire retardant, both internally and externally, it said that "the cladding systems in use meet the requirements of building regulations".

NIHE representatives are scheduled to meet with cladding manufacturers next week, and the NIHE met with the Fire Service and local government authorities on Thursday to discuss fire safety and building regulations.

The NIHE said checks on all 32 high-rise residential accommodation blocks in Northern Ireland were ongoing to ensure they "remain fully compliant with all fire safety regulations".

Tenants in the buildings also received fire safety leaflets.

Residents with concerns can contact the NIHE on 03448 920 900.

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