SBC High Rise Blocks

Briefing note - 16 June 2017

Following on from the reassurance message that was distributed to residents in our high rise blocks on Wednesday 14 June it was felt appropriate to provide some further information concerning action the Council takes in conjunction with the Fire Service to keep our residents safe.

The legal obligations related to fire safety are set out in section 7 of this note. However it is important to stress from the outset that the Council does and will continue to do all it can to keep its residents safe and informed.

Please email us on FireSafety@stevenage.gov.uk with any questions regarding fire safety

1. Our High Rise Blocks

  • We have seven high-rise buildings which comprise of 356 general lettings flats and 86 sheltered flats. The buildings concerned are Highcroft, High Plash, The Towers, Brent Court, Harrow Court, Shaftesbury Court and Gladstone Court.
  • All of our flats were designed to resist assault from fire and smoke for at least 30 minutes.
  • Our flats do not have complex escape arrangements. This means that there are simple routes to safety in the event of an emergency.
  • None of our high-rise buildings have cladding or insulation. Accordingly the outside surfaces of our buildings should not ignite in the event of a fire.
  • Other than enhancements to fire detection equipment we have not altered the structure or common parts of these buildings since their construction. Individual flats have received upgrades when Decent Homes works were undertaken including the installation of hard-wired smoke alarms where required.
  • Our blocks were not constructed with sprinkler systems and they have not been retro fitted. Accepted guidance on sprinkler systems states that they are very difficult to install retrospectively. Subject to the outcome of the Public Inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire the Council will consider the feasibility of installing sprinkler systems within its high rise blocks.
  • Our high rise buildings have fire detection equipment installed in all escape routes, stairwells and rooms that have electrical equipment in them.
  • We have Automatic Opening Vents (AOV’s) in all high-rise buildings. This equipment activates in the event of a fire. The vents open to allow smoke to escape and to keep stairwells as free from smoke as possible.
  • We have the following fire-fighting equipment on-site at each high rise block:
    • AOV’s
    • Dry-Risers, which allow the Fire and Rescue service to pump water up to the different floors of the building if they need to tackle a fire
    • Fire Detectors
    • Manual call-points on every exit to a stairwell
    • Fire doors
    • Communal area doors
    • Emergency lighting on every floor and every-other landing
    • Way finding Signage
      Each site also has a Fire Action Plan
  • We have upgraded our tenants and some leaseholders front entry doors to composite 30min rated fire door (better performance, low maintenance, one of the highest available specifications).
  • We have a clear corridor policy to help ensure there is no fuel to feed potential fires.
  • The gas supply in two of our high-rise buildings (Brent and Harrow Courts) has recently been decommissioned and removed. In a further two buildings we have a communal boiler so there is no gas supply in the habitable parts of the building. In the remaining three blocks there is a gas supply to people’s homes. We conduct thorough tests on all dwellings with a gas supply and are reviewing the gas supply position with regards to these three buildings.
  • Regrettably Harrow Court experienced a serious fire in 2005. Two firefighters tragically lost their lives as a result of this incident. A number of less serious fires have occurred since. On each occasion, including the tragic fire in 2005, the building design has resulted in fires being contained.

2. Liaison with Herts Fire and Rescue Services

  • We work closely with the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue service who:
    • Regularly practice and carry out familiarisation exercises within our blocks;
    • Inspect our compliance and testing arrangements for automatic opening vents (AOV),
    • Inspect dry risers and fire fighting equipment;
    • Meet with SBC’s Fire Safety Surveyor on a regular basis;
    • Undertake Safe and Secure home visits focusing on vulnerable residents;
    • Provide general information and guidance which is assembly point signs in lobby areas, stairwells and lifts.

3. Fire Safety Checks and Inspections

  • We have up-to-date Fire Risk Assessments (FRA’s) for every building that needs one.
  • We address any works/issues identified through the FRAs. An example issue is when items are left in communal areas / corridors and need to be removed.
  • We have up-to-date compliance and testing records.
  • Weekly tests are undertaken of:
    • communal fire alarms; 
    • Automatic Opening Vents (AOV’s);
  • Dry risers are compliance tested annually and have 6-monthly visual checks.
  • Emergency lighting is tested monthly, quarterly and annually (for different time periods during each test).
  • The visual inspections undertaken during the most recent Fire Risk Assessments at the high rise blocks (which are carried out annually), indicated that all doors in the tower blocks appear to be compliant. All tenanted properties have certified fire doors.
  • We have recently conducted tests on the audible levels of our fire alarms. These checks confirmed that the fire alarms in the common areas can be heard loud and clear in tenants’ flats. We recorded levels in excess of 70db which demonstrates that the alarms are very clearly audible.
  • Our caretakers inspect these buildings daily and report anything amiss. In Gladstone and Shaftesbury Courts our Sheltered Housing Officers are also trained on what to look for and how to report any issues.
  • All testing undertaken is formally recorded and available for viewing by Herts Fire and Rescue and other agencies as appropriate.
  • We share best practice via the FLAG group (Fire, Legionella, Asbestos and Gas).

4. Current Fire Evacuation Policy

  • In common with all landlords of purpose built blocks we follow the advice of the Fire Service. The “Stay Put” policy is recognised to be current best practice.
  • The “stay put” policy states that it is safest for residents to stay in their homes in the event of a fire and to only attempt escape if it is safe to do so.
  • The policy reflects the following principles:
    • Not putting people at risk by asking them to leave a place of relative safety and attempt escape through an area that could be dangerous
    • Reducing the risk of confusion, panic or alarm
    • Not hindering / obstructing the ability of fire-fighters to tackle a blaze
  • This national policy may well be reviewed following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower but remains the most authoritative advice available at this time.

5. Resident Engagement

  • We issued information to residents in our high rise buildings on the day of the incident.
  • We will visit all residents in our high rise blocks to talk them through the key points within this briefing note and to answer any queries they have during the next week.
  • Residents with support needs are well known to us. However if you think there is anything we need to know about any resident in our high rise blocks who may not be able to cope as well as others in an emergency situation please contact us at the following address - FireSafety@stevenage.gov.uk
  • This briefing note will also be made available via the website and social media.

6. Reassurance  

We would wish to re-assure residents and their visitors that:

  • When, unfortunately, fires have broken out in our buildings in the past they have been contained at the point of origin and the fire service have found no fault with SBC’s fire safety related activities.
  • Our blocks comply fully with the Fire Safety Order 2005 and are routinely inspected by SBC officers and the Fire Services.

7. The Legal Requirements

  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 (often abbreviated as the “FSO”) is the relevant law governing fire safety in public buildings, including sleeping accommodation.
  • The FSO broadly requires us to conduct Fire Risk Assessments (FRA’s) to publically accessible areas of our blocks (NB. but not inside individual flats), ensure that the person conducting the assessments is trained and competent and finally to ensure that any actions arising from those inspections are completed.
  • Our inspections are conducted by an in-house team of very well trained officers.
  • SBC fully adheres to the requirements of the FSO.

Further information

Download the leaflets below for information about Fire Safety in your home and what to do in an emergency.