Callow Mount Residential Fire Sprinklers
Callow Mount (Sheffield) Pilot Project 2011
For some time, fire safety professionals (individuals and industry organisations) have maintained that automatic residential fire sprinkler systems are amenable to retrofitting in existing developments, particularly high-rise residential tower blocks. Alternative viewpoints have contested that notion, noting worries about economic and practical practicality, but a pilot project to retrofit residential fire sprinklers in Callow Mount, a multi-story block of flats in Sheffield, proved the reality of what can be accomplished in 2011.
The Sprinkler Coordination Group (SCG)-sponsored Callow Mount pilot project, which was partially funded and directed by the British Automatic Fire Sprinkler Association (BAFSA), saw the successful retrofit of residential fire sprinklers to a 1960s, thirteen-story tower block that provided sheltered housing.
The project was completed on time and within budget (the entire retrofit was completed in just four weeks – 30 August to 28 September), confirming the opinion of the sponsor (SCG) and founder/director (BAFSA) that third-party projections presented to the governing bodies had unhelpfully overestimated the costs of retrofitting. The final “bill” for the Callow Mount upgrade was received with astonishment.
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 cost as:
- £250 per annum (2011 prices)
- Lifetime costs based on the above over a 30-year period c. £60,000
- This equates to £40 – £50 per flat/per year
For instance, the cost of repairing a fire-damaged single-occupancy flat in a nearby complex had reached £13,000.
On many counts, the Callow Mount pilot project in Sheffield was a success. In addition to avoiding any budgetary or time overruns, the whole refit (46 one-bedroom and one two-bedroom flat plus the non-residential ground floor space) was finished while the building was still inhabited; not a single tenant had to be relocated during the work.
Lakanal House Fire – 3 July 2009
Six people were killed in a fire in the Lakanal House tower block in Camberwell, London, on July 3, 2009. The event sparked a flurry of criticism and controversy in the media.
The investigation into the Lakanal House fire lasted ten weeks. The jury discovered that multiple opportunities to conduct building safety checks were overlooked.
Following the conclusion of the investigation, the Coroner, Judge Frances Kirkham, emailed the then Communities Secretary, Sir Eric Pickles, Southwark, and the London Fire Brigade with several suggestions, including that landlords install fire sprinkler systems in 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 Sprinkler Systems in High-Rise Buildings
In an ideal world, residential fire sprinklers in high-rise buildings would be included throughout the design process, but as the 2011 Callow Mount pilot project showed, retrofitting can be a feasible option when properly scoped, cost, and implemented.
The fire at Lakanal House raises numerous questions, not just about the incident itself – how it originated and spread – but also about fire safety laws and procedures in high-rise residential tower blocks around the world.
As national and local government bodies are questioned about what role, 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, the issue of ‘cost’ will frequently arise.