Firefighters call for more training to tackle high-rise buildings

Ballymun fire illustrates need for enhanced risk assessments and resources, say unions

 A firefighter surveys the damage at the scene of the at the Metro Hotel, Ballymun after Wednesday night’s fire. Photograph:  Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

A firefighter surveys the damage at the scene of the at the Metro Hotel, Ballymun after Wednesday night’s fire. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

 

The Ballymun fire has starkly illustrated the need for improved training, resources and enhanced risk assessment in relation to the threat of fires in high-rise buildings, according to Dublin firefighters.

Siptu and Fórsa officials, who represent firefighters working for Dublin Fire Brigade (DFB), have sought a meeting with Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy, claiming concerns they raised following the Grenfell Tower fire in London have not been addressed.

“The high-rise fire in Ballymun has starkly illustrated why their repeated demands for high-rise firefighting training as well as the provision of adequate resources and risk assessments must be acted on,” said Siptu sector organiser Brendan O’Brien.

Since 1981, there had been no increase in the provision of high-reach fire appliances, despite the city having grown considerably, he added.

Mr Murphy said a task force established after the Grenfell Tower blaze which killed 71 people last June has met on 10 occasions. He said its report would be submitted to him by the end of April and would propose “a programme of fire safety initiatives” to address “priority areas of concerns”.

He told the Dáil while the evacuation process worked successfully at the Metro hotel in Ballymun he would, in conjunction with Dublin City Council and DFB, consider if there were specific issues arising from this incident which require follow up.

In an appraisal of fire safety in Irish medium to high-rise buildings following Grenfell, 291 were identified as having certain categories of external cladding, 99 were subject to detailed fire safety assessments and further action is proposed in eight cases, he added.

‘Tricky’

DFB is carrying out an initial review of the Ballymun scene over coming days. It will examine whether fallen debris may have been a factor in how the fire spread so quickly. Windows in a lobby area on the east side of the building had to be opened to release smoke, which may have allowed burning debris to become lodged, thereby spreading the fire. Wind-driven effects also made it “tricky” for firefighters at the scene, a source said.

Irish Fire and Emergency Services Association vice president Ros MacCobb said he hoped a thorough and transparent report on the circumstances would be issued – and noted a number of reports on major fires over recent years had yet to be published.

Fórsa head of communications Bernard Harbor said the Government’s fire safety policy had again been shown to be flawed as it failed to address the need for comprehensive risk assessments, training, and resources specifically for high-rise fires. He said his union wished to discuss with the Minister “what action must be taken to ensure the safety of both the public and firefighters”.

Grenfell review

Lawyer Deirdre Ní Fhloinn, a construction regulation expert based at Trinity College, said there was need to wait and see what caused the fire and how it spread, but “compliance with building regulations and enforcement are likely to come under the spotlight”.

A major review of UK building regulations following Grenfell had in an interim finding stated in relation to high-risk buildings, such as hotels and mixed residential units, they were not fit for purpose, “which should prompt us to look at ours, as the Irish system is quite similar”, she said.

An overhaul of safety regulations and fire risk management was urgently required to allow for regular checks of buildings, said Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin. The priority should be “inspections to see if you have adhered to fire safety regulations”.

There was a need for an audit not just of high-rise buildings but of all high-risk buildings including schools and care homes, she said.