Sunday, 2 July 2017

Hackney Council's response to the Grenfell Tower fire

by Councillor James Peters




The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy.  We still don't know how many people died in it but we know that it was a lot.

The response to the Grenfell Tower fire continues to add to the tragedy.  Hundreds of families in Kensington are homeless because of it.  Their lives are in turmoil and most are living in hotels with little support and little idea of what their future holds, if news reports are correct.

Like 2009's Lakanal House disaster, the Grenfell Tower fire clearly has implications for every other council in the country, including Hackney Council.  There are fire safety lessons to be learnt and immediate action to be taken to reassure residents that they are safe in their homes.

In De Beauvoir, we have 6 Council-owned tower blocks and some other tall, residential buildings in private ownership.

5 of the Council-owned towers are on the De Beauvoir estate.  This photo shows 4 of them (I couldn't get all 5 in shot):


The 6th tower block is on the Kingsgate Estate, in the northern part of De Beauvoir, near Dalston.

The cladding installed on the outside of Grenfell Tower appears to have contributed to the fire spreading.  None of the Council's tower blocks in De Beauvoir has any sort of cladding.  Nor have any of the private tower blocks (from looking at them).

Since the fire, the Council's Director of Housing Services has written a series of letters to everyone living in a Council property to let them know what the Council is doing in reaction to the Grenfell Tower fire.  Much of the rest of this blog post reflects what was said in the most recent letter.



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Important headlines


1.  The Council has an up-to-date fire risk assessment for every single one of its housing blocks.


2.  The Council does not use the type of cladding, or the contractor, used at Grenfell Tower. 




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What the Council's doing to check cladding 



  • Initial inspection: Council officers completed an initial inspection of all cladding on Hackney Council buildings within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire.  No Council-managed estate blocks have the same cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower. 
  • Further work: 
    • Specialists from a company called Cladtech Associates are visiting blocks to test any cladding.  The idea is to provide more reassurance that people are safe in their homes. Cladtech Associates may remove sections of cladding from some blocks for testing – this is nothing to be concerned about, and is part of the comprehensive fire safety review.
    • Also, Council staff are checking the fire safety of things like fire doors and dry risers. They will be easily identifiable and will carry official ID.  
Residents will not need to take any action while this work is being done.  It will not affect the buildings in any way.




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Other things the Council is doing



  • Getting expert advice: 
    • Independent fire adviser: in order to have an expert view on what the Council needs to do to be even more sure about fire safety in its buildings, we have appointed an independent fire adviser, someone who had been the London Fire Brigade's borough commander for Hackney.  His name is Graham Howgate.  Graham provides advice on fire safety matters and is very familiar with the borough and our estates.
    • Hackney Fire Safety Response Group: the Council has set up a group which includes Hackney’s current London Fire Brigade Borough Commander and senior members of staff from across the Council.  This group meets weekly to ensure the aims of our fire safety action plan are met and to keep the Mayor of Hackney and the Cabinet Member for Housing regularly updated.
  • A fire safety review: this will happen across the borough.  The Council will look into a range of fire safety measures, such as fire safety signs, the information given to residents and the use of sprinklers.
  • Looking at fire engine access: we've asked the London Fire Brigade to visit estates over the coming weeks to look at fire engine access into estate car parks.  It is important that vehicles are not parked in areas that could hamper the fire services access – please report any cars parked dangerously.
  • Putting all fire risk assessments online: we will put all of the Council's fire risk assessments online.  Due to the number of assessments and the need to present the raw data so that it is easy to understand, this may take a number of weeks. 

When the Council's fire safety review is complete, Council officers will consider the findings with the independent fire adviser and the Council will write again to everyone living in its properties to tell them what it plans to do in each block.  The recommendations will be agreed once the Council knows that all the fire safety measures have been addressed.




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More information




If you have any questions about fire safety in your block, please visit the Council's website, where we are regularly updating a list of frequently asked questions and answers: http://news.hackney.gov.uk/update-statement-and-faqs-about-fire-safety-on-estates/   

For up-to-date fire safety information from the London Fire Brigade visit: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan.asp and http://www.london-fire.gov.uk/staying-in-or-going-out.asp 

It is important we all do everything we can to keep our estates safe. You can report any faulty fire doors or fire safety equipment immediately to Housing Services on: 020 8356 3691. 

If you have any questions or concerns about fire safety on your block or estate, please contact the Neighbourhood Contact Centre on: 020 8356 3330. 

The Council is currently receiving a very high number of customer enquiries at the moment. If you have a question or concern which is not fire related, please refer to our website where there are contact details of how you can contact the relevant Council department: www.hackney.gov.uk/contact-us 




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Q&A

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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Q: I have cladding on my block, is it the same as that used on the Grenfell Tower?

A: No. The Council does not use this type of cladding and it is not on any Council-managed estate.
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Q: Will the Council's fire safety review look at cladding?

A:  Yes. The Council is reviewing cladding used on Council estates using an independent specialist called Cladtech Associates.  The cladding will be visually inspected and will then be tested and fire safety-rated on some estates.  Work started this week and you may see inspectors on estates in the next few days.  They will be easily identifiable and will be carrying official ID.  Again, there is no reason for concern as this forms a part of our wider fire safety check.

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Q: Other local authorities have already removed cladding, why hasn’t Hackney?
A: The Council completed an initial inspection of all cladding within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire and found no fire safety concerns.  The Government requested samples of specific cladding.  The Council does not use any of this cladding and therefore is not required to send any for testing.  However, for added reassurance the Council will be reviewing fire safety across all estate blocks.  The Council has also commissioned an independent cladding specialist to visual inspect, test and fire rate the cladding on some estate blocks.
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Q: Will you be installing sprinklers in council blocks?
A: Once we have the results of our fire safety review, and on the advice of the independent fire advisory service, we will be looking at the option to install sprinklers in our estate blocks.
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Q: The Metropolitan Police have said that a Hotpoint FF175BP fridge freezer was the initial source of the Grenfell Tower, what do I do if I have one of these fridge freezers?
A: Owners should register their appliance with the manufacturer to receive any future updates and recall notices. Check you model number which is usually found on a barcode sticker behind the salad container in the fridge.
Owners of a Hotpoint fridge freezer model FF175BP (White) or FF175BG (Graphite) should call the manufacturer's freephone hotline on 0800 316 3826.
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Q: Will I have to evacuate my block because of the cladding like residents have in Camden?

A: No.  All of our buildings have an up to date fire risk assessment and no Council-managed estate blocks have the same type of cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower. 

Any priority work needed following these assessments has been done and we continue to monitor fire safety, using estate inspections and our estates officers. 

In addition, all buildings have up-to-date certification for dry riser testing and electronic certificates - these are assessed twice yearly with one test and one visual inspection. The Council undertook its own inspection of cladding within 48 hours of the Grenfell Tower fire and found that no Council-managed estate blocks use the same cladding that was used on the Grenfell Tower.


Residents of Camden Council estate blocks have been asked to leave their properties temporarily for their own safety after cladding of a similar type that was used on Grenfell Tower was found.  There were also other fire safety concerns inside of the estate blocks.
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Q: Should residents stay put, or evacuate in the case of a fire in a block of flats?
A: The London Fire Brigade has advice about what to do in the case of a fire in a block of flats, you can see this advice below or for more information, visit: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan-campaign.asp.
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Q: What if I live in one of the Council blocks that’s been told to evacuate?
A: There are some purpose-built blocks in Hackney that have an evacuation policy where the London Fire Brigade advice is to leave because of the design and layout.  You must follow this advice if you have been told specifically by the London Fire Brigade, the Council or if there are evacuation signs in your block.
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Q: What is the London Fire Brigade advice?
A: The London Fire Brigade advice can be seen below.
Stay put:
  • If there is a fire in your building and you are inside your purpose-built flat or maisonette, and you're not affected by the fire stay put and call 999
  • You are usually safer staying in your own flat or maisonette unless heat or smoke is affecting you
  • A self-contained, purpose-built flat or maisonette will typically give you between 30 and 60 minutes protection from fire
  • If you are in the communal areas of the building, leave and call 999
  • The exception to this is if you live in a scissor block or have been told specifically by the London Fire Brigade, the Council or if there are signs in your block telling you to evacuate if there's a fire.
Get out:
  • If there is a fire in your purpose-built flat or maisonette, warn all the people you live with and leave, closing the front door behind you
  • Follow your escape plan (ie plan your escape and know how to exit the building if you need to).
  • If there is a lot of smoke, crawl along the floor where the air will be clearer. Always use the stairs, rather than the lift, and make your way out of the building
  • Call 999 from any phone as soon as it is safe to do so
  • Further information for people who live in purpose built flats and maisonettes is available at: www.london-fire.gov.uk/know-the-plan.asp
This advice printed below is an extract from the Fire Brigade web site: www.london-fire.gov.uk/FireSafety.asp

Test your smoke alarms regularly

Most fires in the home start accidentally and ensuring you have working smoke alarms in your home will provide a vital early warning for danger. That is why it is important and essential to test them every month to make sure they are all in good working order.

Safety advice for smokers
  • Never smoke in bed
  • Always ensure you stub out cigarettes properly and dispose of them carefully
  • Keep matches and lighters out of children's reach
  • Never leave lit cigarettes or cigars unattended
  • Empty ashtrays carefully, ensuring all smoking materials are stubbed out and cold
  • If you must smoke, do it outdoors

How to prevent cooking fires
  • Avoid leaving cooking unattended
  • Don't cook if you are tired, have been drinking alcohol or taking medication that might make you drowsy
  • Take care not to lean over hot hobs and keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob
  • Be careful to keep the oven, hob, cooker hood and grill clean to avoid a build-up of fat and grease, which could ignite and cause a fire
  • Use spark devices to light gas cookers - they are much safer than matches or lighters as they don't have a naked flame
  • Double check the cooker and hob are turned off when you've finished cooking
  • Check toasters are clean and placed away from anything that can catch fire
  • Never put anything metal in the microwave
  • Never use a barbecue indoors or on a balcony - burning or smoldering fuel can cause carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Supervise children and pets in the kitchen at all times and keep matches and saucepan handles out of reach 

If a pan catches fire
  • Don't tackle the fire yourself and don't attempt to move the pan
  • Never throw water over a fire as it could create a fireball
  • Turn off the heat, if it is safe to do so
  • Leave the room, close the door, shout a warning to others and call 999

Electrical fires are common: know the limit 

If you're having trouble paying your energy bills don't use candles or naked flames as a substitute for heating and lighting. 

Your electric and gas supplier may be able to provide you with free or subsidised energy efficiency measures, such as insulation, or a discount on your bill.

Contact them to find out if you qualify. 

Many electrical fires can be avoided by following some simple actions:
  • Don't use imitation electrical chargers as they may be unsafe
  • Make sure electrical appliances have a British or European safety mark when you buy them
  • Keep electrical appliances clean and in good working order
  • Unplugging appliances and chargers when you are not using them or when you go to bed helps reduce the risk of fire
  • Hair straighteners can get extremely hot. Always switch them off and leave them to cool on a heatproof surface
  • For plugs that do not come fitted to the appliance, always check you're using the right fuse
  • Keep to one plug per socket
  • If you use an adaptor, use a fused 'in line' type. The adaptor or extension lead will have a limit of how much power it can safely provide so be careful not to overload sockets
  • If using a cable drum extension lead, it should be completely unwound to avoid overheating
  • Remember: scorch marks, flickering lights, hot plugs and sockets, fuses that blow or circuit-breakers that trip for no obvious reasons could be signs of loose or dangerous wiring

Bedtime routine

Many fire deaths happen at night when most people are sleeping 

Working smoke alarms should wake you if a fire does break out but you can further reduce your risk by carrying out some simple checks before you go to bed. 

  • Close inside doors at night to stop a fire from spreading
  • Turn off and unplug electrical appliances unless they are designed to be left on, such as fridges and freezers
  • Do not leave electrical appliances such as mobile phones and tablet computers charging overnight
  • Check your cooker is switched off
  • Don't leave the washing machine, tumble dryer or dishwasher on
  • Turn heaters off, rake out fires and put a fire guard in place
  • Put candles, incense sticks and oil burners out and never leave them burning when you are asleep
  • Make sure cigarettes are completely out - it's best to wet them to be sure
  • Never smoke in bed
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And finally...


...there have been reports about a building in Woodberry Down, in the north of Hackney, having cladding similar to the Grenfell Tower cladding.

It isn't a Council building but here's what the Mayor of Hackney has said on the matter:



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