Barking Riverside Fire Safety Conference 2021

Monday 7th June 2021

A Barking Riverside Fire Safety workshop involving Samuel Garside House residents, the Barking Reach Residents Association, Just Space working with the University College London, the British Red Cross, and Phil Murphy, independent fire safety consultant, was held on the 7th June 2021.

The conference followed up on the two inquiries held after the Samuel Garside House fire so far – the one by the council and the one featured on this website, a resident-led Inquiry organised by the Barking Reach Residents Association. The Thames Ward Community Project facilitated and the Barking Reach Residents Association chaired.

The conference revealed the astonishing failures of builders, developers, local authorities and government to safeguard the fire safety of residents.

Purpose

The purpose of the event was to:

  • Develop resident-led solutions for fire safety by engaging with residents.
  • To use the opportunity of the meeting to develop wider community resilience.
  • To engage with wider partners and stakeholders.
  • To analyse the two fire enquiries to learn lessons and agree actions.
  • To research and expand our knowledge on fire safety.
  • To gain respect for a resident-led approach to fire safety.
  • To gain recognition for resident’s proactive efforts to bring about additional safety measures.
  • To bring forward next steps that residents can take action on, such as developing an action plan.

The Community Resilience Programme is supported by Aviva; enabling the British Red Cross and local communities to prepare for, respond to and recover from crisis. Find out more about our partnership, here

Agenda

  1. Welcome /purpose and ground rules
  2. UCL summary of the fire inquiries
  3. British Red Cross fire safety presentation.
  4. Phil Murphy – examples of best practice​
  5. Ways forward and future dates
  6. Open discussion: issues, solutions, actions​
  7. Next steps

Slide shows presented:

Just Space (from the University College London, UCL) presented critical summary of the council and resident led fire inquiries.

The British Red Cross presented a Community Fire safety Plan

Phil Murphy, former firefighter and Fire Safety Enforcement officer, now an independent consultant, presented a slide showing the problems caused by cladding and other failures to keep building fire safe.

Resident quotes

Resident 1:

“Two years on from the fire and Council and Resident Enquiry what stands out to me is that residents will need to need to put in place our own fire safety action plan.”

This was agreed by all unanimously.

Resident 2:

“It is good to see the British Red Cross, University College London and Phil Murphy supporting the solutions residents are proposing. It would be good to have further engagement from the Council and I would like to know what their response is to our resident enquiry and its recommendations. It is admirable that the resident focus is still to propose solutions and not wait for others to act on a fire safety action plan.  I want to suggest as an agreed action of this meeting, that members of this group of residents take their solutions and action plan to the council leader and BRL, at the earliest opportunity, because it will genuinely be for the good of all”

This was also agreed unanimously.

Recommendations

British Red Cross Recommendations

  • That local groups self organise, spread awareness of community needs and assets and clarify who will do what in an emergency.
  • Use low-cost additional safety equipment eg, fire retardant bedding, matting; home fire safety visits and early referrals from relevant services.
  • The British Red Cross advised they could supply residents with first aid, mental health and fire marshal training courses and run emergency scenario exercises.
  • Downloading the “Emergency App”.
  • Engage in workshops to create emergency plans, map local assets, signpost informational materials and train residents in preparation for a fire.

The outline of these workshops would be:

  1. Workshop 1 would focus on gaining a deeper understanding of the community by assembling contextual information of the community. Tuesday 20th July 6pm-7:30pm.
  2. Workshop 2 would give residents an understanding of the key groups and key people that can help them respond and recover from a fire. Tuesday 14th September 6pm-7:30pm
  3.  The final two workshops would cover the actions a community would take in a fire safety action plan. Tuesday 28th September 6pm-7:30pm & Thursday 30th September 6pm-7:30pm.

British Red Cross reflections on working with communities

“In the aftermath of Grenfell one of the biggest operational challenges for BRC was matching volunteers’ skills and capacity with the scale and depth of trauma being experienced by people in the community and leadership on the ground. Ultimately this experience told us that we should have better coordinated with the community and when an emergency happens, we must reach out – from the start – to both the larger local organisations as well as the real grassroots groups. This involvement is key to maintain and strengthen trust with communities through the process of response and recovery. Looking back at this emergency British Red Cross learned that we need to have a much better understanding and connection with communities and grassroots groups.    

Parallel to these BRC Learnings, the role of community resilience at the statutory level – in emergency planning, response and recovery has increasingly become a strategic part of Local Authorities’ duties set out in the Civil Contingencies Act (2004). The 2019 Resilience Standards for London specifically included Community Resilience as one of the key assessment areas. 

This concept has gathered momentum and a more developed role for communities is highlighted in frameworks such as 2021 London Resilience Partnership Humanitarian Assistance Framework. This framework indicates that local voluntary, community, and faith groups may have a vital part to play in individual and community recovery.”

Click for more info: here and here  

Phil Murphy – examples of best practice

Phil Murphy delivered a presentation that focused on practical steps that residents could action. The following pieces of kit were recommended for resident use:

  • Using a sprinkler system adjusted to residents requirements. One options mentioned was a more expensive but more targeted system with a fine mist spray (https://plumis.co.uk/) and a cheaper, portable version that may be more suited to people with physical ailments when evacuating. (https://www.surefire.co.uk/suppression/portable-sprinkler-mist-systems/ )
  • C-Tech Hush ActiV Grade C Domestic Fire Alarm Kit (HAK/1).
  • StaySafe Home Fire Safety Kit with Spray.
  • Drager 5500 Parat Fire Escape Hood.

Phil recommended that we determine appropriate improvements to fire safety measures, based on a Personal Fire Risk Assessment. Click here for details.

In the discussion, the view was expressed that the government was increasingly relaxing and deregulating the building regulations, including  the recommendation of “stay put” policies rather than evacuation policies in the case of a fire. The Grenfell tower fire was used as a counter example to the stay put policy.

Barking Reach Residents Association chair Pete Mason said that for decades governments, both Labour and Conservative, had been privatising and cutting the inspection regimes, on the basis that buildings were increasingly built to higher standards and greater safety, while on the contrary, there had been a trend to buildings being built to an increasingly lower standard, with more dangerous, more flammable materials being used, and lacking cavity barriers.

Phil explained that the Grenfell inquiry had found that the invisible poisonous gases carbon monoxide and cyanide had travelled from dwelling to dwelling and killed many of the victims. He raised concerns that having unconnected smoke alarms in each flat is inadequate, because contrary to the assertion in the government guidelines, tests showed that dwellings are not sealed units, there is ingress from outside, so that poisonous gases can kill even before smoke is perceived, even before a family in another dwelling hears the smoke alarm of the dwelling on fire. 

We learnt that in 2019-20 there were 36 fires that spread affecting more than two floors,  i.e. on average one every 10 days, and that rather than having a proper alarm system and sprinklers in flats, we witness people running from flat to flat banging on doors and banging pots and pans.

Phil explained that unlike the image shown in movies, sprinkler systems do not sprinkle the whole building with water if a single sensor is set off, but on the contrary, they are merely activated at the source. he also suggested that they are not expensive to install, and recommended them for all blocks of flats.

Residents at the meeting were keen to discuss the introduction of sprinkler systems in their blocks, and in all new builds, with a second escape route, schedule a fire emergency trial day and implement safety recommendations in staircases.

Conclusion

The outcome of the meeting – which was attended by more than 20 local residents — was positive, with residents wanting to take part in an actionable list of proposals and keen to meet and engage with relevant stakeholders such as the council and the developer Barking Riverside Limited, but also with other organisations that will be able to assist residents put an action plan in place (such as British Red Cross and University College London).

Residents were keen to engage with the British Red Cross’s series of workshops starting on the Tuesday 20th July 2021 in order to put in place a fire safety action plan.

Agreed Actions:

  1. Put in place a Resident fire safety action plan with the help of the British Red Cross.
  2. Request a formal written response from LBBD and BRL to the resident inquiry.
  3. Request that BRL cease to use housing providers who do not do follow safety requirements, eg Bellway.
  4. A smaller group of residents are to present a fire safety action plan to the BRL board and LBBD.

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