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Callow Mount Residential Fire Sprinklers

Callow Mount (Sheffield) Pilot Project 2011

Callow Mount

Fire safety professionals (individuals and industry bodies) have maintained for some time that automatic residential fire sprinklers lend themselves to retrofitting in existing developments, including high-rise residential tower blocks.  Alternative opinion has challenged that view, citing concerns around economic and practical viability, but in 2011, a pilot project to retrofit residential fire sprinklers in Callow Mount, which is a multi-storey block of flats in Sheffield, demonstrated the reality of what can be achieved.

Sponsored by the Sprinkler Coordination Group (SCG), and part funded and directed by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), the Callow Mount pilot project saw the successful retrofit of residential fire sprinklers to a 1960’s, thirteen-story tower block, which provided sheltered housing.

The project was rolled-out on time (the entire retrofit completed in just four weeks – 30 August to 28 September) and within budget, vindicating the opinion of sponsor (SCG) and funder/director (BAFSA) that projections from third parties, tabled to Government bodies, had unhelpfully overestimated the costs of retrofitting.  Indeed, the final ‘bill’ for the Callow Mount retrofit was greeted with some surprise.

The British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA) reported identified true and full costs for retrofitting fire sprinklers to Callow Mount at that time as:

  • Total cost – £55,134
  • Cost per flat – £1,148


And maintenance and full life costs as:

  • £250 per annum (2011 prices)
  • Lifetime costs based on above over 30-year period c. £60,000
  • Equates to £40 – £50 per flat/per year

By way of comparison, refurbishment costs for a fire-damaged single-occupancy flat in a development adjacent to Callow Mount had reached £13,000.

The Callow Mount pilot project in Sheffield was a success story on many levels.  In addition to avoiding any budgetary or time over-run, the entire retrofit (forty-six one-bedroomed, and one two-bedroomed flats plus the non-residential ground floor space) was completed whilst the building remained occupied; not a single tenant had needed to be relocated whilst the work was carried out.

Lakanal House Fire – 3 July 2009

Lakanal House

On 3 July 2009, a fire at the Lakanal House tower block in Camberwell, London, claimed the lives of six people.  The event was widely reported in the media, fuelling much commentary and debate.

The inquest into the Lakanal House fire lasted for ten weeks.  The jury found that numerous opportunities were missed to carry out safety checks at the building.

At its conclusion, the Coroner, Judge Frances Kirkham, contacted the then Communities Secretary, Sir Eric Pickles, Southwark and the London Fire Brigade with a number of recommendations including that landlords consider fitting fire sprinkler systems to their properties.

Wise After the Event 

It’s easy to be wise after the event but when tragedy strikes and suggestions emerge as to how it might have been averted, analysis rightly follows.

The Role of Residential Fire Sprinklers in High-Rise Buildings

In an ideal world, residential fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings would be included at the design stage, but in the meantime, as proven by the 2011 Callow Mount pilot project, retrofitting can be a viable option when properly scoped, costed and implemented.

Events such as the fire at Lakanal House prompt many questions, not limited to the blaze – how it started and spread – but wider discussion of fire safety regulations and precautions in high-rise residential tower blocks everywhere.

The issue of ‘cost’ will often raise its head as national and local government bodies are questioned as to what part, if any, financial considerations played in the original design, construction, maintenance and refurbishment of tower blocks destroyed or damaged by fire and where retrofitting residential fire sprinklers could have been an option.

Research sources: theguardian.com bbc.co.uk bre.co.uk

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