EXCLUSIVE by STEVEN DOWNES
A senior Croydon Council official has admitted that no alarms sounded and sprinklers failed to work when a fire broke out in one of the residential tower blocks on Regina Road, South Norwood, on Sunday.
In a letter stuffed through residents’ letterboxes on Tuesday, the council says that the lack of any fire alarm was deliberate, because it is following the “stay put” fire policy – the same policy which was used at Grenfell Tower in June 2017, when 72 people were killed.
The Regina Road fire occurred in the rubbish chute of Block 2-56a, one of the three 1960s-built blocks at the centre of a council housing scandal where tenants endure leaks, damp and mould and unhealthy living conditions.
The letter to residents, which has been seen by Inside Croydon, is from Sharon Murphy, Croydon Council’s interim head of “tenancy, caretaking, resident involvement and community development”.
“We are extremely grateful to residents who raised the alarm to others living in the block so they were able to leave the building quickly,” Murphy writes.
“We want to offer reassurance to residents about the fire safety alarms systems working as they should have done.” Our italics, for emphasis.
Residents who have spoken to Inside Croydon confirm that there was no fire alarm whatsoever.
Murphy states that, “There is a ‘stay put’ policy in place in communal areas such as the corridors so detectors do not sound as this could initiate evacuation and send people into the communal areas where it may be smoky.” Once again, our italics.
“It is usually better to stay inside your flat because your front door is a fire door and you are better protected,” Murphy wrote.
She added, “The sprinklers are only be [sic] activated if they are directly affected by flame or detect heat above a certain temperature.” Murphy failed to share what kind of heat is necessary in a burning building before the council’s sprinkler system might work.
And responding to residents’ concerns that smoke billowed out of the rubbish chute and into the corridors of the block, Murphy’s answer is, “The ventilation system installed in the communal lobbies operated as it was designed to.
“Smoke activated the smoke detectors which in turn automatically opened the ventilation windows. This enabled the smoke to escape, prevented it from spreading further throughout the building and allowed residents to pass safely to the escape stairwell.”
Residents in the blocks, including council tenants, have told Inside Croydon that among the litany of faults and repairs that remain unresolved in the poorly maintained Regina Road towers are damaged or ill-fitting front doors on several of the flats.
The “stay put” policy has proved to be hugely controversial since the Grenfell fire four years ago. It has been implemented by emergency services largely, it is suggested, as a response to the risks in taller residential blocks, when the fire brigade lacks automatic ladders tall enough to get firefighters to the highest floors.
Grenfell Tower was 24 storeys. Regina Road’s blocks are 11 floors high.
The lack of more than one fire exit or staircase for residents in tower blocks has also been identified as a serious safety issue, for those fleeing the fire and for firefighters seeking emergency access on a rescue mission.
Last month, the Grenfell Tower Fire public inquiry was told how residents’ warnings about the “stay put” policy and the block’s faulty fire doors were dismissed by housing managers.
In November 2016, the Grenfell Action Group outlined on its website how concerns about self-closing fire doors were raised by the London Fire Brigade following another fire, at Adair Tower in north Kensington.
The Grenfell residents said that they feared that “only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the [Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation], and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders.”
The residents’ website report was shown at the time to Robert Black, the head of the Grenfell Tower management body, who rejected it, saying, “We should do nothing. This is not the sort of website we should respond to.”
Suffice to say, few residents of the Regina Road blocks have been reassured by Croydon Council’s claims that all the fire safety systems operated as they ought to have done this week, when no fire alarms sounded and no sprinklers worked.
Read more: Investigation finds systemic failure and incompetence in council
Read more: Only 10% of council housing repair jobs ever get checked
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