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Saturday, July 1, 2017

Did cladding added to the Grenfell Tower blaze ? - apathy of builders !!!

Cladding is a material attached to a building's frame to create an outer wall.  The process of applying the rain-proof frontage can create a 25mm-30mm cavity between the cladding and the insulation behind it~ in Chenni and other places with greedy builders continuing to building faulty houses, you cannot expect quality !! there could be lacunae everywhere !! – may get exposed anytime evoking untold trouble  for the unsuspecting buyer.  Accidents are bad, fire accidents are gory, more so, if there were to be loss of life besides loss of property.  Chennai probable is forgetting fast of the major fire that destroyed seven-storeyed Chennai Silks building on Usman Road in T.Nagar, occurring on May 31, 2017. Around 14 persons, who were inside the building, were rescued and the fire had reportedly  destroyed all goods stocked in the showroom by evening severely weakening the building.

Miles away, in the city rocked by bombs and busy in news for the Champions trophy where the hosts have been eliminated and the Asian giants India and Pakistan to play finals – occurred a major fire accident on 14.6.2017 – the ‘Grenfell Tower’ the 24-storey Grenfell Tower, a block of public housing flats in North Kensington, London, England. There are gory details as close to score of people are feared dead in the accident.

                   The fire started shortly before 1 a.m. local time (UTC+1). Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire, and later attempted to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated out of concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to still be structurally sound.  One report puts that possibly around   600 people were in the 120 one and two-bedroom flats of the block at the time of the fire. At least 30 people were killed, and 76 are reported missing. Sixty-five were rescued by firefighters. Seventy-four people were confirmed to be in five hospitals across London, 17 of whom were in a critical condition. Ongoing fires on the upper floors and fears of structural collapse hindered the search and recovery effort.  As of today, reports quoting police state  that they did not believe they would find more survivors, that it was likely that some victims would never be identified, and that the final death toll may exceed 60, with media sources stating that the deaths may reach 100.  The rescue operations were swift.  British PM and other high officials including the  Queen and the Duke of Cambridge met volunteers, local residents and community representatives.   

Gory indeed and this post is not on gory details of death and the dance of fire.

For the Insurer, the first concern is on the cause of loss.  Here too, the cause of the fire is not yet known. The extraordinary speed at which the fire spread is widely believed to have been aided by the building's recently added exterior cladding, which appeared to contain highly flammable material. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, criticised the safety instructions; in particular, those instructions telling people to stay in their flats until rescued by fire services. This advice proved fatal to residents who heeded it, as it relies on the assumption that fire services can contain a fire within the building's interior, which is impossible if the fire is spreading rapidly via the building's exterior, reports  MailOnline. 

                    More often, the cause of loss is concluded as ‘faulty wiring; temporary wiring; loose earthing; poor or wornout material; bad equipments and more – all leading to short-circuiting’ – and we have heard of short circuiting though there were no electric utilities but only worn out old electrical wires, which everyone though were non-functional !!!

Some reports however attribute the loss to a refrigerator.   MailOnline further reports that the  Ethopian taxi driver whose faulty fridge is alleged to have caused the Grenfell inferno said he will be forever haunted by what happened. Behailu Kebede, a father of one, raised the alarm after flames took hold in his flat at number 16 on the fourth floor.  A friend who spoke to Mr Kebede shortly after the tragic ordeal said the experience was 'tearing him apart' and that he was 'blaming himself even though there was nothing he could do.'

There is more ~  the villain is the ‘fireproof cladding’  that would have prevented Grenfell Tower tragedy 'would have cost just £5,000 extra' -  as it reported that the cheap version  is a banned one in America.  In this interesting article, MailONline reports that hundreds of aluminium Reynobond panels were installed on Grenfell Tower.  There are three  panel types - one with flammable plastic core and two are fire-resistant :  Grenfell contractors reportedly chose the cheaper version with the plastic core  - quite unfortunately the panel  with the plastic core is £22 sq m - £2 cheaper than fire-resistant version.  Contractors that worked on the £8.6 million Grenfell Tower refurbishment could have spent just £5,000 more on fireproof cladding, it has been revealed.  

Hundreds of Reynobond aluminium coated panels - which are banned in the US over fire safety fears - were fitted to the outside of the London high-rise last year.  The building was covered in panels with a plastic core costing £22 per square metre - just £2 cheaper than the fire-resistant version.  So the revelation comes at a time as the news of death toll keeps rising making people feel that the  contractors that worked on the £8.6 million Grenfell Tower refurbishment could have spent just £5,000 more on fireproof cladding  !!

How sad to read that Grenfell Tower, which was built in 1974,  was only refurbished in 2011 with the new cladding that could not resist the blaze or did it enhance it ?? Grief stricken relatives have now called for an inquiry into the deadly inferno .  A salesman for US-based Reynobond told The Times that the version used on Grenfell, which has a polythene centre and is referred to as 'PE', was banned in American buildings taller than 40ft over fire safety reasons. 'It's because of the fire and smoke spread,' he said. 'The FR (variant) is fire-resistant. The PE is just plastic.'  The PE version is used for small commercial buildings and petrol stations, he added, rather than tower blocks or hospitals.

Cladding is a material attached to a building's frame to create an outer wall (shown in this graphic). The process of applying the rain-proof frontage can create a 25mm-30mm cavity between the cladding and the insulation behind it, shown between the first two layers. Communities and Local Government Secretary Sajid Javid tried to reassure people living in similar high-rise blocks who fear they may be at risk or are living in a building which is covered in flammable cladding. He told BBC Breakfast: 'There are about 4,000 high-rise buildings in the country but not all of them have been re-cladded but also let's not just make the assumption that it is all about cladding.  It is believed that cladding contributed to similar tower fires around the world, including residential blocks in Dubai, but with significantly less casualties. In November 2012 a blaze ripped through the 34-Tamweel tower in Jumeirah Lakes, Dubai, destroying homes. It was later found that newly installed aluminium cladding could have spread the fire after a disregarded cigarette set started a rubbish fire. No one died or were injured as a result of the blaze, but many were left without their homes.

Labour MP David Lammy yesterday branded the Grenfell Tower blaze 'corporate manslaughter' and demanded arrests are made because he fears hundreds may have died in Britain's worst fire for decades. And the Liberal Democrats have now called for the type of cladding used on Grenfell Tower to be banned in the UK.

'It seems people's homes were turned into death traps because they were fitted on the cheap. People buy houses spending their lifetime fortunes, wishing to live peacefully, but the greed of builders aided by official apathy or corruption, turns it unsafe and disturbs their serenity.   Over there in UK, calls  have been made to tear down any building wrapped in the controversial material as Theresa May announced a full public inquiry into the tragedy which is feared to have claimed the lives of dozens.  An action group predicted the Grenfell Tower fire was an accident waiting to happen four years ago but claim their warnings fell on deaf ears.  In a scene similar to Chennai fire accident where every media spoke about violation of building rules, this cladding issue is also hyped in media.  Some state that in the past they would never have been built because they wouldn’t have met the regulations.   One wrote - ‘When you get on a bus, you expect that bus’ breaks to work. This building was like a bus full of people without any brakes.’  Another spoke of the  disparity in wealth the  West London borough has been brought into the spotlight in the aftermath of the disaster, stating : ‘The borough of Kensington and Chelsea is not only one of the richest in the country, but it has more wealth than most countries in their entirety.

In the end, it is always the common man who suffers and the greed of some kill not golden ducks but hapless humans too !

With regards – S. Sampathkumar.
16th June 2017

Excerpted from 4 articles of

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