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Posted 29 June 2017

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Answers to questions about fire safety

As you can imagine, as a social housing landlord and owner of four high-rise blocks of flats, we have received many questions from tenants, local people and the media about the safety of our buildings, our fire safety procedures and the reassurance we can offer our tenants. Here are the questions we have been asked, and our answers.

What was your immediate response to hearing the news of the fire at Grenfell Tower, London?

Like everyone across the country, we felt shock, horror and deep sadness as we watched the awful events unfold. Never more have we felt the acute sense of responsibility we have for the thousands of people we provide homes for.

Against a backdrop of such horror, we were also heartened by the strength of the local community and enduring courage of people directly and indirectly affected by the fire. Everyone who works at Ongo shares the dreadful sense of loss and wishes to express deepest sympathy to the family and friends of those who perished.

How many tower blocks do you own and where are they?

We have four high-rise blocks of flats. They are all in Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire. They are called Trent View House, off Bridges Road, and Crosby House, Princess House and Sutton House which are all on the Market Hill estate.

How many Ongo tenants live in your tower blocks?

Trent View House has 13 floors with 79 individual flats.

Crosby House has 19 floors with 76 individual flats.

Princess House has 19 floors with 76 individual flats.

Sutton House has 19 floors with 76 individual flats.

All the buildings house a mixture of one and two bedroom flats.

Have your tower blocks been refurbished in the past? If so, when and what did this involve?

Trent View House was refurbished in 2011/12. This involved the replacement of windows, the refurbishment and redecoration of communal areas, the installation of external wall insulation and the replacement of roof covering.

Crosby House, Princess House and Sutton House were refurbished in 1992. This work was carried out by North Lincolnshire Council. In 2016/17 Ongo Homes delivered a programme to replace the lifts and upgrade the heating systems.

What fire safety measures do you have in place in tower blocks?

All four blocks have fire alarm and emergency lighting systems installed. Each year, a full fire risk assessment is carried out in each building by an independent company called Fire Industry Specialists Ltd. This assessment is an independent audit to check all our first safety systems are appropriate and our inspections are up to date. It also checks for any new issues which could increase fire risk.

We work with Humberside Fire and Rescue to ensure our fire management standards are fit for purpose and comply with all mandatory fire regulations.

Each individual block has its own bespoke fire evacuation plan which was developed with the advice from the fire service.

Additional checks include:

  • Weekly emergency lights checks
  • Weekly fire alarm tests
  • Weekly communal area checks
  • Annual lightening detector checks
  • Annual full-scale evacuation drill
  • Annual check of bin chute sprinklers
  • Six-monthly service of bin chutes
  • Six-monthly inspection of dry riser pipework
  • Annual inspection of hose reels
  • Three-monthly emergency lighting full test
  • Five-yearly full electrical test

What can tenants living in tower blocks do to protect themselves from fire?

Tenants have a massive role to play in keeping themselves, their homes and their buildings safe. All of our tenants receive the following advice:

  • Make sure communal areas are kept clear at all times.
  • Ensure fire doors remain closed at all times.
  • Do not tamper with smoke or heat detectors and alarms.
  • Comply with all instructions during a fire drill.
  • Make sure you remind yourself regularly of the evacuation plan for your building.
  • Make sure you inform Ongo Homes if you have any mobility issues which might impede your evacuation as we keep a record of people who need additional assistance.
  • Report any health and safety concerns to a housing officer.
  • Ensure all electrical items within individual flats are maintained and in good working order.
  • Report any incidents of arson, or risk of arson, to Ongo Homes and the police.

Do your tower blocks have cladding?

Yes. The cladding at Trent View House was installed in 2012. The cladding at Crosby House, Sutton House and Princess House was installed in 1993.

Is the cladding on your tower blocks the same as that on Grenfell Tower?

No. We understand the cladding at Grenfell Tower included Aluminium Component Materials (or ACM). NONE of our buildings have cladding containing this material.

The cladding at Trent View House is a semi-structural system which is covered with 25mm of non-combustible fibre reinforced base coat render. Horizonal and vertical mineral wool fire breaks are installed to prevent spread on external walls or to neighbouring buildings. There is also a mineral fibre fire break at every floor level.

The cladding in the three blocks at Market Hill is a wire mesh system containing Rockwool mineral fibre. The system has fire barriers installed at junctions.

Are any of your buildings included in the list of 600 which the Government has asked are immediately checked for unsafe cladding?

No. Along with all other registered housing providers we have been asked to supply information to the Government’s Homes and Communities Agency on the number of high-rise buildings we have and the nature of the cladding. We supplied this information straight away.

As a result of this, the Government requested that urgent checks were carried out on 600 buildings. This DID NOT include any buildings owned by Ongo Homes.

What fire safety checks are you doing on the cladding on your tower blocks?

Although none of our buildings were included in those which required urgent checks (see above answer) we took the independent decision to commission additional checks on the cladding on all four of our buildings to test for fire resistance and the integrity of the system.

What are the results of the fire safety checks on the cladding on your tower blocks?

At this time (29 June 2017) we have not yet carried out the precautionary checks, however, we expect the tests to take place in the next few days, depending on the availability of the external inspectors.

What is your evacuation advice in high-rise buildings – stay or leave?

Our advice, based on liaison with Humberside Fire and Rescue, is ‘if you can see a safe and clear opportunity to leave the building then you must do so immediately’. Anyone who is unable to leave due to the location or severity of a fire, or due to mobility problems, is advised to close all doors, call the fire service to inform them where they are and wait to be rescued. The following advice has been sent to tenants.

‘In the event of a fire evacuate the building if you are physically able to use the stairs.

‘It is your responsibility to leave the building by the safest route, ensuring all doors are closed behind you. Do not attempt to use lifts when evacuating the building.

‘If it is not safe for you to evacuate, go back inside your flat, go to the furthest room away from your entrance door ensuring all doors are closed behind you and await rescue.’

Are sprinklers fitted in your tower blocks?

Sprinkler systems are fitted in the bin chute areas of the Market Hill high-rise buildings as these are areas which we had previously identified as being of high risk of fire. There is no system at Trent View House as the bin chute is located outside and does not pose the same risk. Each building has its own evacuation plan, which each tenant has a copy of.

Will you be fitting sprinklers in your tower blocks?

Our Board members took the decision at their meeting on Wednesday 28 June 2016 that we would invest in the installation of sprinkler systems in each of our high-rise buildings.

We have written to tenants to tell them this. We don't have a timescale for this work at the moment as the system needs to be designed and procured but we have promised to keep tenants informed as further decisions are taken.

What about other homes owned by you which also have cladding, such as blocks of flats, houses or maisonettes? How safe is the cladding on those?

Again, NO cladding used by Ongo Homes is the same as that at Grenfell Tower and NONE of our cladding includes Aluminium Component Materials (ACM) so no resident who lives in an Ongo home with cladding needs to be fearful. However, our advice to all tenants, regardless of where they live, is the same. The most certain way of remaining safe is to ensure that measures are in place to avoid fires starting in the first place. Regularly test fire alarms to make sure they are working and ensure households have their own evacuation plan, which everyone knows and has tested.

What communication have you had with tenants?

As soon as we heard the awful news from Grenfell Tower we knew our tenants living in our high-rise blocks would be worried. We also recognised how important it was to talk to them, reassure them and answer their concerns as quickly as possible.

Within hours of hearing the news we had a team of staff delivering a letter to everyone living in our high-rise blocks. This gave detailed information about the fire safety measures we take in their buildings and gave them contact information to call us if they had any worries.

Within the first few days after the fire, our executive and senior management teams had met with local resident groups, again to answer questions. Humberside Fire and Rescue staff also attended the sites of our buildings to talk to tenants and respond to any concerns.

What communication have you had with other local representatives, such as the local council?

Within days after the fire, our executive and senior management team held meetings with local ward councillors.

On 29 June 2017 our Director of Regeneration and Head of Regeneration attended the North Lincolnshire Council’s Scrutiny Committee meeting, again to address questions and provide reassurance about the safety of our tenants.

We also responded to local and national media enquiries, published our statements on our website and circulated information about our response to our local media.

What should tenants do if they are worried about fire safety?

Call us at Ongo Homes, or Humberside Fire and Rescue. We take all concerns very seriously and are here to help and support tenants whatever their worries.

We are always open to new suggestions too so if anyone thinks there are further things we should consider then we welcome them to get in touch.

Can tenants move from their flats into a different home if they no longer want to live in a tower block?

We understand how worried tenants will have been to see the awful events at Grenfell Tower and we can understand why they would have concerns for their own safety. We hope, through our meetings and letters, that we have reassured them sufficiently that fire safety procedures are in place and that the cladding on our buildings, which differs from that on Grenfell Tower, has previously been checked for fire resistance.

Of course tenants can register for a new home through our lettings system HomeChoiceLincs but it is important that they come and talk to us first if they are really worried.

How much are the checks costing and who will pay for this?

This isn’t the time for us to worry about money, what is important at this time is for us, and our tenants, to know that everything that can be done is being done to ensure their safety.

We will fund all the checks that are necessary to give ourselves and our tenants peace of mind that their homes are as safe as they can be.

If you have any further questions, please email us at prdept@ongo.co.uk and we will post the answers here.

 

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