Possibility of Grenfell Tower-type fire exists in Ireland | CJ Walsh

15 June 2017

The following Irish Times article by Peter Murtagh was published yesterday 14th June 2017 (see link here): Possibility of Grenfell Tower-type fire exists in Ireland

Ireland ‘following the English model of building regulation – which is inadequate’

The possibility of a Grenfell Tower-type fire in Ireland exists, according to a fire safety expert, but a representative of fire-fighters says the height of buildings currently does not pose a problem for the fire service.

Niall Walsh of CJ Walsh, an architectural and sustainable design firm, said he feared Ireland was following the building and regulatory path taken in the UK – which appears to have contributed to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Rainscreen cladding on the London tower was, according to Rydon Construction, put there with the aim of “improving thermal insulation and modernising the exterior of the building”. The company finished refurbishing the building last summer.

Mr Walsh said in an interview that Ireland was “following the English model of building regulation – and that model is inadequate”.

The model was one that eschewed actual inspection of buildings in favour of paper-based checks, he said.

He said there was a need for “independent inspection of buildings”, similar to the regime that was in place in Ireland up until the early 1990s.

As regards building materials and construction methods, which appear to have played a role in the London blaze, Mr Walsh said while it was important not to rush to judgment, “there is definitely a problem with external cladding”.

Such cladding has become popular in recent years for buildings of all sizes – including two-storey residential homes.

External cladding has previously been a factor in the rapid spread of fire in incidents in Australia, the Middle East and Chechnya, Mr Walsh said.

Spread could be rapid

If the material used in external cladding was flammable and fire from an interior passed to the exterior, the spread thereafter could be rapid.

“There’s definitely a question with the cladding. There’s also a question as to how the fire spread so quickly internally because there was only one fire evacuation staircase, from reports – and that was very quickly smoke clogged,” said Mr Walsh.

Other questions any inquiry was likely to focus on included the fire alarm system, if one existed, and the “stay in place” standard advice to people in residential buildings – that is, return to your apartment, close the door while the fire is fought, and wait for assistance.

“It is criminal to advise people to go back into their apartment and wait. These are not safe places any more,” said Mr Walsh.

Ross MacCobb, chairman of the Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association, agreed that external insulation was a cause of concern.

“It’s made of polyfoam, or a variety of that, all the way to rockwool, which won’t ignite although it will burn,” said Mr MacCobb.

Dublin fire-fighters currently had access to turntables that had ladders capable of reaching 32 metres into the air, which, when erected at an angle, gave fire-fighters an elevated reach of some 28 metres, he said.

This would be sufficient for buildings of up to 10 storeys, said Mr MacCobb. He had concerns that planning regulations might soon allow for buildings of a height that would put them out of reach of the fire brigade.

Related

London tower block fire death toll of 12 expected to rise

London fire: Questions raised about safety of building’s modernisation

Spending cuts may have contributed to London fire – Corbyn

Other articles of interest:

London fire: ‘It was quiet panic. People were completely traumatised’ about 10 hours ago 
London fire: 12 confirmed dead with another 18 people critical about 4 hours ago 

London tower block fire: in pictures about 6 hours ago 

London fire: Woman tried to save baby by dropping it ‘from ninth floor’ about 4 hours ago 

Residents’ blog warned of fire hazards at London tower since2013 about 17 hours ago 

One thought on “Possibility of Grenfell Tower-type fire exists in Ireland | CJ Walsh

  1. Michael Tweed

    It’s going to be sickening if the political response in Ireland to queries as to the standard of fire safety in apartment blocks in Ireland is the trotting out of platitudes regarding the “reinforced” building control regime brought about by their introduction of BC(A)R. Time and time again people have been pointing out that BC(A)R is still self-assessment except that someone puts their neck on the line. When financial pressures dictate choices of materials and construction methods it’s conceivable that non compliance might occur. Only a statutory independent Building Control Officer has the absolute authority necessary to halt that, precisely because of their statutory powers.
    We have over 25 years of building stock constructed under the self-assessment regime – not just the “Celtic Tiger” era stock (which the media seem to be obsessed by while ignoring what went before and after). For apartment owners there is a cruel dilemma. On the one hand no doubt they would love the comfort of an independent fire audit being carried out. But given the fact that undoubtedly the government are going to resist being deemed financially responsible for rectifying any fire safety problems there will be two downside outcomes for the apartment owner. Firstly they will have to fund the remedial works themselves, and secondly as soon as their apartment is deemed non-compliant with fire regulations the value of their property will plummet and will forever be tainted, plunging them, almost certainly into negative equity.
    I dearly hope we don’t have a tragedy on the scale of Grenfell Tower here in Ireland.

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