New Providence Wharf fire report reveals serious fire safety issues

The provisional London Fire Brigade investigation into the fire at New Providence Wharf on 7th May states that the fire was caused by a faulty fuse box but made worse by failure of the smoke ventilation system.

ACM cladding panels did not significantly contribute to the external spread of the fire.  

Protestors demonstrating outside Ballymore HQ in Marsh Wall

Tower Hamlets Justice for Leaseholders (THJL) said in a media statement that they were ‘appalled’ to learn of all the fire safety defects and management failures identified in the LFB report.

“It is beyond a farce that despite violating regulations and endangering residents’ lives in this way, Ballymore expects leaseholder to foot the bill for its own negligence.”

‘Broken  chimney  lead  to potentially life-threatening situation’

“The smoke ventilation system inside New Providence Wharf acted like a broken chimney leading to a potentially life-threatening situation,” said London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills.

‘Had it not been for the exceptional actions of our firefighters and 999 control officers this could have had tragic consequences. 

Fire at New Providence Wharf

The initial findings from Fire Brigade Investigators show that the smoke detectors on the 8th floor communal corridor failed to operate both the Automatic Opening Vent (AOV) and the cross corridor fire doors.

It is the responsibility of the building owner or manager to make sure the AOV, which is designed to ventilate and extract smoke during a fire to help residents escape, operates correctly.

In this case this did not happen.

Still no culture change

“Despite our response to this fire and drawing on the many lessons learned from the Grenfell Tower fire, in many cases we are sadly still not seeing a culture change in all those responsible for fire safety in high rise buildings.  

London Fire Brigade Deputy Commissioner Richard Mills on scene at New Providence Wharf fire

“The New Providence Wharf fire needs to be an urgent wake-up call to all building owners and managers. Look at the fire safety solutions inside your building and take action if they are not performing correctly. It is too late to wait for a fire to see if they work.”

The spread of fire on the outside of the building from floors 8 to 11 is believed to have been helped by timber decking on the balconies but not ACM panels. 

The use of timber decking would seem to be contrary to Government advice issued in January 2020 which states that: “Balconies should not assist fire spread along the external wall. Balconies including combustible materials may not meet an appropriate standard of safety and could pose a risk to the health and safety of residents and other building users.”

The Fire Brigade’s parallel investigation into possible breaches of fire safety regulations at New Providence Wharf at the time of the fire is continuing.   

You can read the full report here.

Water pressure issues on Isle of Dogs

One issue that does not seem to be mentioned in the preliminary investigation report is that video taken by witnesses at the time clearly show that the first attempts to get water onto the fire from the ground fell several stories short of the flames.

London Fire Brigade are keen to reassure residents that fires are mainly fought from inside buildings, not outside. Turntable ladders have their place in the total operation but their presence (or absence) is not as important as we might sometimes think.

Incorrectly parked vehicles blocking access roads are probably a far bigger issue, especially in overcrowded urban areas like the Isle of Dogs.

Cllr.Andrew Wood

“Residents reported that the LFB struggled to get consistent water pressure at the beginning and to find a nearby hydrant, said Cllr. Andrew Wood (Canary Wharf, Independent).”

Given that we have concerns about water pressure generally on the Isle of Dogs this is an issue we will be interested in, assuming residents observations were accurate. And we have concerns about the locations of the tall ladders given that we have more tall buildings in Tower Hamlets then anywhere else in the UK.”

We have asked LFB for clarification on this issue.

See above for clarification of turn table ladder issue.

Baltimore Group and Tower Hamlets council have been approached for comment.

Ballymore statement

A Ballymore spokesperson has provided EEE with the following statement.

“Ballymore notes the preliminary report of the London Fire Brigade. We are grateful to the fire service for their prompt reaction to the incident on May 7 which ensured that all residents were safely evacuated in a timely fashion.

The safety of our residents is everything to us. Since the fire of May 7, we have inspected the fire prevention, detection and mitigation systems in all of our properties to ensure all are in working order.

We will work closely with the fire service, our professional and scientific advisers, and our residents to assist with the ongoing investigation.

Façade remediation works are underway at the New Providence Wharf building, at no cost to leaseholders.”

Tower Hamlets Council statement

“We would like to thank the London Fire Brigade for their rapid and professional response to the fire at the New Providence Wharf development on Friday 7 May. The preliminary fire investigation report confirms the fire outbreak started on the 8th floor through a resident fuse board and the spread of the fire was facilitated through timber decking on each balcony.

Further testing will be carried out to find out exactly how the fuse box failed while the Brigade lead a parallel investigation into possible breaches of fire safety regulations at New Providence Wharf.

Residents who have been affected by the fire continue to be supported by the Ballymore response team and we will continue to assist residents and the London Fire Brigade wherever possible throughout the investigation.”

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