In the immediate aftermath of the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the campaigners at Gate Safe – the organisation established to improve the understanding of existing legislation and standards affecting safe gates – were “horrified” to read in the national media that firefighters were recently hindered from attending an emergency because of a faulty automatic gate system.
Fire crews attending a call-out to a tower block in Manchester were forced to access the housing development by scrambling over a fence because the fire alarm panel hadn’t opened the security gates, effectively locking the Emergency Services out of the premises.
Apparently, this wasn’t the first time the Fire and Rescue Service had experienced the problem. There have seemingly been two further occasions on which access was denied in May, with one of those occasions resulting in rescue crews using ladders to climb over the gate and another forcing them to gain access via a pedestrian entrance gate that had been left ajar.
Fortunately, all three call-outs proved to be false alarms, but Gate Safe has pondered: “What if a fire had been found? The consequences don’t bear thinking about.”
As an organisation, Gate Safe has always strongly advocated that a separate pedestrian gate should be provided in addition to any automated gates installed for vehicular access. This is especially important in a high occupancy dwelling (such as a tower block).
Regardless of the above, Gate Safe states that any gate capable of inhibiting access in the event of an emergency scenario should be directly connected to the fire alarm such that it automatically opens if an incident should occur. Where the gate is key to the safety of residents, there should be an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) solution fitted to avoid any power outages impacting the gate’s ability to open and close.
Best Practice also dictates that the mandatory Fireman’s Switch should also be installed in a prominent place to allow entry for the Emergency Services teams at all times.
Finally, Gate Safe has urged that it’s absolutely vital to ensure a regular maintenance programme is in place for any automated gate. This is even more critical when it relates to a site where daily usage is high due to any sizeable number of occupants.
After reviewing the press coverage of the incident in Manchester, Gate Safe understands that none of these basic requirements were met.
The exterior cladding which featured at Grenfell Tower has been identified as a major potential factor that may have contribute towards the speed of the devastating blaze and subsequent substantial loss of life. This has resulted in a review of other tower blocks in the UK featuring either the same or a similar type of cladding.
As of the morning of Wednesday 28 June, Prime Minister Theresa May reported that, to date, 120 tower blocks have been tested for fire resistance and all of them have failed.
Gate Safe urges a similar audit of any automatic gates should be carried out at such properties as they may also pose a similar threat to resident safety.