· To Include asking about - AFD – Hardwiring Fire alarm
· The Fire alarms systems for Kitchen use
· Sprinkler Systems Design and Installation
· The type and age of wiring currently in the buildings
· Carbon Monoxide Alarms Expiry and Batteries
The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes, in reference to AFD (Automatic Fire Detection) and the hard wiring of fire alarms stated, that currently within the tower block dwellings there were hard wired smoke and heat detectors. These were always in the kitchen and normally within the living room. In some dwellings there was a third area. The current detectors had a backup Lithium-ion battery and some of them were reaching the end of their life. As part of the new infrastructure programme the detectors were being replaced with new alarms which included a new battery for the backup system.
The Compliance Officer said the standard was for AFD in all Council owned buildings except for low risk single storey buildings of a specific nature, such as park changing rooms. Where there was sleeping in the building the standard was L1 classification otherwise it would be an L2 classification system. The vast majority of Corporate Landlord buildings did have AFD systems installed. In cases where it had not been installed, such as at Penn Library, the Council had insisted it be installed as part of the refurbishment project. The Chair asked whether the two fire alarms at Civic Centre had been reconciled to one. It was confirmed that there was now just one fire alarm system for the whole building.
The Chair asked a number of questions with reference to the i10 building. The Compliance Officer confirmed that an L2 Classification AFD system was installed in addition to a full compartmentalisation system. The evacuation arrangements were, if an alarm was sounded on one of the ground floor commercial premises, there would not be an immediate evacuation of the offices straight away. If an alarm was sounded in one of the offices, then the procedure was for the entire building to evacuate. The Senior Building Surveyor commented that the i10 building had a very smart alarm system and would direct people in different directions depending on the location of the fire. Due to the amount of glass in the i10 building there were extra precautions, including a concrete floor, which was designed to keep a fire contained for at least one hour.
The Chair commented that he found the current i10 evacuation procedure confusing. He asked what material had been used as cladding on the building. In response, the Senior Building Surveyor said he understood the cladding to be a mixture of a curtain wall system, which was glass and part of it was similar material to that used on Grenfell known as Celotex. Due to the height of the i10 building being below 18 metres, the material used complied with current regulations. The Chair expressed concern about the cladding regardless of the fact that it met current regulations, which had been described as broken, following the Grenfell tragedy.
The Chair asked why a panel had recently been removed from the i10 building. The Compliance Officer confirmed it had been removed to install a new sign on the building. The Chair asked if the sign presented any fire risk and if it was electric powered. The Compliance Officer stated he would investigate the matter and respond accordingly. A Panel Member expressed concern about the i10 building. The fire on the outside of Grenfell Tower had spread rapidly and this meant any electric signage on the outside of the i10 building caused them alarm as a potential ignition point. The Chair requested a report to be received by him within two weeks detailing the material used on the i10 building, information on the new sign on the upper part of the building, the evacuation procedures, the training given to staff and any additional procedures and measures in place. The Chair would distribute the report to the Panel members upon its receipt. He referred to the House of Commons having sprinklers retro fitted and argued that non-residential buildings in Wolverhampton should also be considered.
The Senior Building Surveyor commented that the Council wanted to ensure that buildings similar to i10 for all capital projects going forward were not just compliant with legislation. They wanted to go a step further than regulation compliance and not make the same mistakes that had been made on i10. The Chair welcomed his comments.
The Chair stated it was important to consider nearby buildings as part of the Planning process for a new development. An example where this had been proven as important was for a University which had been recently told to take down an entire building which had cost over £25 million, because it was deemed too close to another building and deemed a fire hazard.
The Fire Safety Inspector Officer remarked there were now intelligent fire detectors available for commercial buildings reducing the number of false alarms. He added that AFD fire alarms in some multi-storey residential buildings, such as Grenfell, were not appropriate because the staircases would not cope with a simultaneous evacuation.
The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes reported a new type of alarm was due out shortly from their supplier, which could be easily fitted to existing dwellings. They were acutely aware that certain residents, were more at risk from fire than others, such as heavy drinkers who cooked late in the evenings. Intelligent fire safety devices would be helpful in these cases. For deaf people, flashing beacons were used. The Chair reported that he was delighted the Council had announced they would be installing sprinklers in all Council owned high rise residential buildings at a cost of approximately £29 million, with an added contingency fund.
The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes, remarked there were two strands of work ongoing. The first being the five-year infrastructure programme and the second the £50 million plus Heath Town Refurbishment project. The design work for sprinkler installation was commencing on the Merry Hill Blocks and was expected by April 2019. Refurbishment on the Heath Town Blocks would commence six months later and would include sprinkler installation. In the main, side wall mounted sprinklers would be installed within the dwellings. There were some water pressure issues which were compounded by Severn Trent turning down their pressures across Wolverhampton. As part of the programme work, new water pumps were being designed.
The Compliance Officer for City of Wolverhampton Council remarked that there were five buildings with sleeping accommodation, which Corporate Landlord held responsibility. As part of the fire risk assessment process they had identified one building where they needed to install sprinklers. This was due to the nature and vulnerability of the residents within the bungalows. Sprinklers were installed in new build schools.
A Panel Member stated that she had been told at a previous meeting that a lot of schools had been built recently without sprinklers installed. In response the Head of Assets said she would investigate the matter with the education department and respond accordingly. The Chair emphasised his support for sprinklers in schools and hospitals which was supported by the Fire Safety Inspector Officer.
The Chair highlighted the differences in regulations for sprinklers in England compared to Scotland and Wales. He wanted all new builds in England to have hard wired fire alarms and sprinkler systems fitted. He believed WV Living should install sprinkler systems and a hard-wired fire alarms system in their new developments as fire safety was more important than the associated costs.
The Chair asked about the type and age of wiring in the buildings managed by Wolverhampton Homes and the Council’s Corporate Landlord Department. The Head of Commercial Services and Stock Investment – Wolverhampton Homes responded that the tower blocks managed by them had all received a rewire of the electrical installation within the flats as part of the Decent Homes Project. As part of the Infrastructure Programme it was planned to update the sub-mains electrical infrastructure which ran up the spine of the tower blocks and supplied each individual dwelling. There were six blocks currently in the first two phases of the programme, where there was a high risk in relation to the safety of the electrical wiring. This was due to the switchgear being of early 1960s origin. There was no rubber wiring but there were open brass connections in some areas which posed a higher risk of electrocution. There was one block which was on lease and managed by Sanctuary for which they were currently in the process of understanding what electrical and fire safety works had taken place in the past.
The Compliance Officer for City of Wolverhampton Council stated they managed about 130 Corporate Buildings and approximately 50 community schools. There was a five-year fixed wire testing programme which assessed the wiring systems of each of the buildings and then classified the repairs required. In practice testing took place every four years.
Resolved: That the Chair receive a report within two weeks detailing the material used on the i10 building, information on the new sign on the upper part of the building, the evacuation procedures, the training given to staff and any additional procedures and measures in place.