Council reassures tower block residents of fire safety

By Sarah Edwards

Oxford City Council has reassured residents of its five high-rise towers across the city that it has delivered substantial improvements to fire safety as part of the major repair works currently being carried out on the blocks.

A letter from the Council reassuring residents of their safety from fire has been sent out following the tragic incident in West London today. All five tower blocks – Evenlode and Windrush in Blackbird Leys, Hockmore in Cowley, Plowman in Northway, and Foresters in Wood Farm – are currently undergoing major repairs to the tune of £20 million.

Cllr Bob Price, Leader of the Council, said: “My heart goes out to all those affected by the tragic fire in West London. Fire safety is a top priority for us, and I wanted to reassure our own tower block residents about their safety here in Oxford. We have gone above and beyond legal requirements to ensure an enhanced level of fire safety for the families living in these blocks.”

“The authorities in London don’t yet know what started the fire in London, or what caused it to spread as it did. It wouldn’t be helpful to speculate on that until they have got to the bottom of it. The letter that we’ve sent today details all the specific measures that we’ve taken to ensure that our tower block residents are safe in their homes.”

The improvements to fire safety that have been or are currently being delivered in the tower blocks as part of the ongoing works include the following:

· Sprinklers are installed and operational in Hockmore, Windrush and Evenlode Towers and will be fully operational before the end of the year in Foresters and Plowman Towers. Sprinklers are not a legal requirement, but the council decided to install them anyway, having listened to the advice of the Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, and having taken on board Coroner’s recommendations following previous block fires elsewhere in the country. They are also in bin storage areas.
· The council has installed a fully automated fire and smoke detection system connected directly to the fire service both in the communal areas and each flat in Hockmore, Windrush and Evenlode Towers. The same systems are being fitted in Foresters and Plowman Towers as upgrades of the more traditional fire alarm systems.
· The external cladding fitted to these blocks is fire retardant. The council also made sure that the external cladding has ‘fire breaks’ between each floor.
· Dry risers are checked routinely to ensure they work effectively. These are the internal pipes that allow fire engines to pump up high pressure water from the ground floor to each upper floor in the event of needing to fight a fire.
· Evacuation procedures in the event of a fire are clear. There are signs on display in each block that tell residents what to do in the event of a fire. The council has asked all residents to make sure that they familiarise themselves with the instructions, and had already begun putting up extra signs to remind residents.
· Fire doors are in place in each block. The council has made sure that the homes have a front door able to resist fire, and has also fitted similar safety measures (called ‘intumescent strips’) to rubbish chutes.
· Smoke extraction vents are in place in stairwells. These work automatically to let smoke out of stairwells in the event of a major fire.
· Fire engines can access each of these buildings. The council can confirm that there are no obstructions that would stop fire engines getting close enough to a building in the unlikely event of a major fire, even during the works.