Fire safety in our high-rise blocks

Following the tragic events of Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at Grenfell Tower in London, WM housing would like to reassure its residents regarding our high-rise blocks in Coventry and Birmingham.

The Group follows a very strict system to ensure the safety of our customers and we have a continuous programme of updating fire safety measures.  This includes replacing fire doors where necessary and checking that measures to prevent fire spreading are in place.

All of our high-rise blocks have annual fire safety checks and any safety work identified is undertaken as a matter of priority.  West Midlands Fire Service also independently carries out checks from time-to-time and alerts us as to any further work identified by them, this is also undertaken rapidly.

We inspect all fire doors and communal areas weekly to ensure they work correctly and are free from rubbish.

We believe our customers should not be alarmed by the events in London and fire safety in our high-rise blocks is of great importance to us.

In recent years we have undertaken a number of refurbishments of high-rise blocks which have included cladding of the building.  Following the fire, we have double-checked all of our records and can confirm that none of our blocks have cladding of the type used at Grenfell Tower.

There are many types of materials used for this type of works.  Our records show that in all of our properties two types have been used.  In the majority of cases the cladding we have used has been ‘Rockwool’ or other mineral fibre.  This has the highest level of fire safety available and is not flammable.  The other type of material used is Phenolic Resin which has a similarly high two-hour fire resistance.

Whilst we do not know what, if any, effect the cladding at Grenfell Tower had we do know that all of the materials used in our cladding have the highest level of fire resistance available.  To reassure our customers we will be publishing below details of the materials used in cladding our high-rise blocks.

We are monitoring information coming from events in London and are using this to identify what, if any, further work may be needed.

We provide fire safety information on our website (https://www.wmhousing.co.uk/help-advice/managing-my-home/safety-and-security-in-your-home/).  There are also a few important steps people can take to prevent fires starting or spreading:

  • Never leave your flat door open and unattended
  • Close all doors in corridors and on stairwells behind you and never prop them open. If you see a communal door open then please close it.
  • Do not leave rubbish or items in communal areas, unless we have specifically given permission.  These can be a fire risk and, if there is a fire, prevent people from escaping easily.
  • We have fire safety information displayed in our tower blocks and it is important residents ensure they read this and understand what to do in the event of a fire.

Information for residents in Coventry

We have 24 tower blocks in Coventry.  Of these two have full external insulation and cladding and six have partial cladding.

The two blocks with full insulation and cladding are Mercia House and Alpha House.

Mercia House is overclad with a terracotta tile behind which is a Kooltherm K15 rainscreen board.  The terracotta is non-combustible and the phenolic board used is class 0 rated for fire spread.   This is not a polymer plastic derived board which sources are currently saying was used at Grenfell.  Phenolic resin is used to create phenolic foam insulation board which does not burn.  Technical manuals state that it will smoulder above 400 degrees Celsius but with no flame, instead it will char.  Charring will create degradation of the structure but this means there is no dripping, smoke volume is extremely low and almost no toxic gases are produced.  There is research to suggest that the majority of casualties associated with incidents of fire and insulation board are due to smoke and toxic gas.  So in terms of flammability and bi-products from exposure to extreme heat, there is research that indicates phenolic is much safer than anything that looks to have been employed at Grenfell.

Alpha House is the second block and here the rain screen is a powder coated aluminium outer shell with mineral wool insulation behind.  Mineral wool is regarded as meeting the highest available standards of fire resistance.

In addition to the two fully over clad blocks we have three blocks with a decorative panel running vertically up each of the four elevations which covers about 10% of the elevation width.  You can recognise these blocks by the ‘Tetris’ panels made up of a number of coloured squares.  These panels use the same K15 Kooltherm panel as Mercia.  The three blocks are, Meadow House, Faulkener House and Longfield House.

We have three blocks at Nauls Mill, William Batchelor, and Sam Vale where there is a corner insulation panel to each floor with mineral wool insulation behind.  These panels are separated on every floor by the concrete balcony above and below.

At Mercia House we have also installed a sprinkler system to all our flats and common parts due to its city centre location above a busy shopping centre.  We have also done this at William Batchelor House as it is our only high-rise sheltered scheme and therefore the level of vulnerability in the occupier group and the impact this may have on any instruction by the fire service to evacuate presents a higher risk of harm, which it was sensible to mitigate through the sprinkler system.

Information for residents in Birmingham

We have 14 high-rise blocks in Birmingham and they all have cladding and weatherproofing. In all cases the insulation is ‘Rockwool’. This has the highest level of fire safety available and is not flammable.

This is a list of all our Birmingham high-rises with this type of insulation and cladding:

  • Vancouver  House
  • Ottawa Tower
  • Montreal House
  • Halifax House
  • Edmonton House
  • Avon House
  • Nash House
  • Lansdown House
  • Audleigh House
  • Chiswick House
  • Faraday House
  • Hogarth House
  • Clydesdale Tower
  • Cleveland  Tower.