12 smoke control lessons to learn from Grenfell

Colt’s Technical Director, Conor Logan looks at the key points we must learn from this unprecedented tragedy

Smoke Control Systems, as with other active fire safety installations, are rarely designed for whole building fires like Grenfell where fire spreads uncontrollably throughout the complete structure. Consequently, the smoke control installation would have become less effective the further the fire spread beyond the first compartment.

Dr Lane’s report suggests that the smoke control system failed to help fire fighters evacuate the tower – in truth, her report does not confirm for certain whether it was actually operational on that night, and if it was operational, whether it was of benefit or not. We will never know for sure whether it made any difference.

However, the Grenfell fire was unprecedented and no smoke control system would have been able to cope with the extraordinary circumstances caused by a fire spreading so quickly up the outside of the building. Neither, for that matter, would sprinklers.

That does not mean, however, that the fire and smoke control industry has nothing to learn from Grenfell – particularly around how systems are procured, commissioned and installed.

Here are 12 key lessons to take away from Grenfell:

  1. Active and passive fire protection systems have a symbiotic relationship and depend heavily on the correct installation of each other.

  2. Any changes made to the smoke control system during construction and refurbishment must be reviewed by a competent engineer.

  3. System design and performance should not be permitted to deviate from specification without full consideration of the implications – above all, cost should not be the prime consideration.

  4. ‘Value Engineering’ of life safety systems should be prohibited.

  5. Specification of components for life safety systems should be more tightly regulated and enforced.

  6. Management of life safety systems should be a professional and controlled process from design all the way through to operation and maintenance.

  7. Smoke control systems, as with all active systems, can never be designed for a whole building fire, but simplicity of use and change of use are essential functions for the control interface.

  8. Systems requiring air to be drawn into the building should be located at low level to prevent smoke contamination.

  9. Competence is not just knowing what you are doing, but also about recognising that you should not be operating outside your level of expertise.

  10. Evacuation procedures and fire fighter training should anticipate systemic failure and first responders should be trained to recognise the signs and how to react.

  11. Education of evacuation procedures is a must for all involved and the ability to communicate effectively with all building occupants in a fire is hugely beneficial.

  12. Early planned evacuation of vulnerable occupants should be a consideration and again the ability to communicate is critical.

Colt Service: The most competent people for the job

Colt have been developing, installing and servicing smoke control systems for over 85 years. You can trust us to look after your systems properly.

The UK’s most competent servicer

Colt was the first UK smoke business to be certified to both IFCC SDI 19 and SDI 05, as a competent installer and servicer of smoke control systems. Find out more about our engineers’ training, our accreditations and our health and safety practices.