Further fire safety work required at Fife high-rises
Fife Council has committed to further investment in fire safety at two high-rise blocks of flats following the findings of a new report.
Consultants commissioned by the council to evaluate work by contractors carrying improvement works to fire stopping at Swan and Memorial Court in Methil have made a series of recommendations which the local authority intends to act swiftly upon as a precaution.
The report by Arup suggests that the use of Phenolic Tile External Wall Insulation (EWI), coupled with a lack of fire breaks in the buildings, potentially poses a higher risk, although Fife Council has a contrary view and has agreed to commission the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to physically test the EWI and feedback their results to the Council over the short term.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has also confirmed it has well-established operational procedures in place which can implemented in the event of a fire.
However, to fully mitigate the risks identified by the consultants and reassure tenants, Fife Council said it is taking proactive steps and is looking to remove the existing EWI and replace it with a mineral wool-based EWI system as soon as practicable and improve the energy efficiency of the blocks to the current Energy Efficiency Standard for Social Housing. This will make the flats warmer and will cost less for tenants to run their heating.
Work is ongoing between Housing, Property and Building Services to detail options and costs for the proposed replacement, and council tenants at Swan and Memorial Courts are being briefed on the consultants’ findings today – with a dedicated housing officer team also available to answer questions and offer advice.
John Mills, head of housing, said: “Following the past tragic events in Tower Blocks in England, we have been working with our tenants to reassure them that they are safe in their homes, and that has been supported with rigorous reassessment to make sure the materials used to clad our buildings is safe.
“The council’s Tower Block Review Group has also made a number of improvements such as the installation of sprinkler systems to ground floor areas, the upgrading of doors to 60-minute fire safety and fire alarm connection to the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.
“However, we are not complacent in relation to the need for effective fire safety and we are always working to enhance standards beyond the current building standards requirements.
“The risk posed by the existing EWI may be higher with the lack of external fire breaks and therefore we’re keen to fully mitigate these risks as soon as possible.
“We’re visiting all of our tenants and residents to offer face-to-face advice and discussions about any concerns they may have in light of the new information we’ve received.”
The tower blocks at Swan and Memorial Court are home to a total of 156 households, 78 households in each, and have 24/7 caretaking and concierge coverage by council staff.
In light of the consultants’ report, Fife Council is working closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Government to re-evaluate its risk assessment for both Swan and Memorial Courts, and any changes to fire procedures will be properly communicated to tenants.
None of the other 10 tower blocks under Fife Council control in Fife are affected by the new information from the consultants, as they are already clad with mineral wool EWI and, in the case of one tower block in Kirkcaldy, just about to be fitted with EWI mineral wool tiles in 2024.
All of the EWI currently used in Fife is classified as “low risk”, meaning it protects surfaces from the spread of flame and limits the amount of heat released from surfaces during a fire.
Councillor David Ross, Fife Council leader, said: “While I understand the report could be potentially worrying for high-rise tenants in these blocks, I want to reassure them that the course of action we are taking is purely precautionary.
“Tenants’ safety is our top concern and, in light of the new information contained in the report, we have been working closely with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service to ensure that the fire safety measures currently in place are satisfactory. That continues to be the case.
“However, it is also true that this report has highlighted some issues we want to address.
“We will not compromise on safety standards and we hope that the steps we are taking to raise standards further will help to provide additional reassurance to our tenants.”
Area Commander Kenny Barbour is the SFRS Local Senior Officer for Stirling, Clackmannanshire, and Fife.
He said: “We have been made aware of recommendations in relation to external cladding on two high-rise buildings in Fife and we will be working closely with Fife Council and the Scottish Government on this matter.
“The safety of our firefighters and communities is of paramount importance and that is why we carry out quarterly operational assurance visits at every high-rise building in Scotland, where we make sure lifts and any fire safety equipment are working effectively.
“We have robust procedures in place in relation to firefighting operations within high-rise buildings. Our crews use lifts, fire alarm panels, fire doors and riser landing valves so any damage to these should be reported to your building manager as soon as possible.
“As part of our commitment to public safety, we also recently equipped our operational crews with fire escape hoods which can be offered to tenants in the event of a fire. These hoods can offer added protection from smoke and hazardous gasses.”
Any tenants or any other interested parties who may be affected and wish to raise their concerns can email firstname.lastname@example.org.