Cladding (fire safety)

Following the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, Surrey Fire and Rescue Service's Business Safety Officers immediately checked the materials used in the construction of buildings in Surrey over eighteen metres in height.

Since then we have worked with Local Authority and District Building Control Teams to review any refurbishments.

It is a requirement of the local authority to notify the fire service of any building that may have this cladding and we now have a dedicated team working exclusively on all buildings above eleven meters in height.

We check to ensure all the correct firefighting facilities and fire precautions within those blocks are in place and advise on any immediate actions that need to be taken.

Questions and answers

What will the fire service do if they find a building has aluminium composite material – ACM - cladding?

If an Officer identifies that ACM-cladding is on the building, like any other issues, we will advise the building's management and work with them to assist in resolution of any issues. Enforcement action will only be taken if necessary.

If ACM cladding is found on a building will the fire service recommend that the residents are re-homed?

This is a decision for the local authority/building management. This will be informed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHCLG) and their local risk assessment.

What about our SFRS high rise fire appliances? Will we use them in a high-rise fire?

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has two high rise vehicles, known as Aerial Ladder Platforms, as well as access to those used by other fire and rescue services if required.

High-rise flats are however designed so that fires are tackled from the inside using a protected stairway which is designed to withstand fire so we may not always need to use our high-rise vehicles.

Are the fire service just visiting residential flats?

The programme of visits will also extend to other buildings, which include hospitals and halls of residences. We are prioritising buildings above eleven floors and also buildings which are flagged to us as having potential cladding issues.

Are high-rise flats safe?

It is important to remember that fires in high-rise buildings are rare and most fires do not spread further than the original flats. The fire at Grenfell Tower was unprecedented, and incidents of this scale are rare.

Purpose built high-rise flats are built in a way special way to protect residents from fire. The walls, floors and doors can withstand fire for up to an hour, and the stairwells are protected to withstand fire for two hours.

Why is it not safer for everyone to immediately evacuate a high-rise flat if there is a fire?

In most fires in high-rise flats, the fire is contained to the flat where it started. Unorganised, mass evacuation can obstruct the fire service and delay them putting the fire out.

This is why we advise residents to stay-put and wait for instructions from the fire service should they need to be evacuated so it can be done in a controlled and safe way.

If the fire gets worse, will the fire service then evacuate the building?

Yes, if the fire service need to evacuate the property at any time, they will co-ordinate the evacuation so the residents can safely exit the building.

I don't understand the stay-put policy and how this is the safest option for high-rise residents?

If there is a fire in your high-rise building our guidance is to 'Stay Put', unless your flat is being affected by fire or smoke. This policy is based on the design of the building and fire protection provided in the building and the walls and doors of each flat.

Some smoke may enter corridors when the residents leave the flat on fire, or firefighters enter the flat to extinguish the fire. By 'staying put' it will also reduce the risk of you entering a smoky corridor unnecessarily and potentially being overcome by smoke.

It will also allow our firefighters to tackle the fire safely and quickly without being delayed by many residents evacuating down the stairways. This policy has been in place for many years and the fire usually only affects the flat where the fire started.

I still have concerns about my safety, what can I do?

If any resident, no matter where they live, feels concerned about fire safety in their home they should contact us to arrange a safe and well visit.

We can also fit smoke alarms for free if yours aren't working or if they are in the wrong position. Most importantly we offer up to date free advice on the causes of fire, how to prevent it happening in your flat or apartment and what actions you can take should the unlikely event of a fire or other emergency take place.

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