Fire chiefs find staff at 21-storey building had 'inadequate' safety training

Godfrey House, the scene of the fire.

Godfrey House, the scene of the fire. - Credit: Julia Gregory

Fire inspectors slapped an enforcement notice on Islington Council following a blaze at a 21-storey tower block after finding staff did not have “adequate” safety training and items were left in escape routes.

The accidental fire destroyed a split-level flat on the 16th and 17th floors at Godfrey House in April, prompting London Fire Brigade to take a closer look.

Three-hundred people live in the block of flats on St Luke’s estate on Bath Street, just off Old Street.

John Loates, one of the complainants

John Loates, one of the complainants - Credit: Julia Gregory

The blaze was tackled by 70 firefighters and 50 residents left the building while it was being tackled.

After the fire, London Fire Brigade inspected the tower block and highlighted problems.

Concerns included “inadequate knowledge by staff of what to do in the emergency plan”, and that “employees did not have adequate safety training and had not been given appropriate training on keeping escape routes clear and sharing vital information with emergency services”.

“It’s great that there was an assessment after the fire happened,” said Aura Freeman, who works in disaster zones.

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She said residents were offered assessments of their flats and fire doors were upgraded.

Godfrey House in Islington was inspected by the London Fire Brigade

Godfrey House in Islington was inspected by the London Fire Brigade - Credit: Julia Gregory

But she added: “This is an old building, they should have done better after Grenfell.”

Another resident, John Loates, said: “There are loads of things wrong with this place.”

He said he was not aware of the enforcement notice.

“I could see the smoke when the fire happened, it was worrying.”

Inspectors were unable to confirm that 22 fire doors could withstand 30 minutes of fire.

They also found that “the council had not ensured a suitable system of maintenance was in place”.

This included fire doors with defective self-closers, missing protective glass compromising the fire route, and an insecure electrical heater in the concierge office “with loose screws, coming away from the wall”.

The heater posed another fire risk as packages were found stored underneath during the inspection.

The fire experts also spotted stacked boxes and packages in the exit from the concierge office.

They also found items which could catch fire in the basement stairway and warned the council that it “compromises the escape route”.

They were unable to discover when the fire detection and warning system was last serviced, among a variety of other issues.

In its enforcement report, London Fire Brigade told the council that gaps between the wooden panels on the electrical fire risers in the lift lobbies meant there was inadequate protection of the communal areas.

This was despite the advice in the previous year’s fire risk assessment (FRA), commissioned by the council, that it should seal gaps with fire-stopping materials throughout the premises, including risers and basement area.

The enforcement notice pointed out that the council had not followed eight recommendations in the FRA to take “significant fire precautions”.

These include clearing waste, storage and combustibles from common areas, ensuring rubbish bins are not stored against the building where they could cause damage if set alight, and inspecting front doors to ensure they give 30 minutes of fire resistance.

Contractors for the council have been doing work this autumn to remove asbestos panels in the riser cupboards in the lift lobbies.

Islington Council has asked for an extension on the November 11 deadline to complete the work so it can remove the asbestos. It now has to be finished by January 31, but the Town Hall said the work should be finished this year.

A spokesman said: “The council has completed many of the actions raised in the London Fire Brigade’s notice on Godfrey House, and any outstanding actions will be addressed as quickly and effectively as possible.”

The council said it had already addressed some of the issues in its own FRA.

It said some of the work needed to be tendered as part of a major project which should be finished by Christmas.

The spokesman added: “Any works that could be completed quickly were undertaken – including relatively minor housekeeping issues, such as cycles/pushchairs in common/landlord areas of the block, fire doors being wedged open in the basement area, and a small number of faulty/damaged door-closing devices.”

Flat front entrance doors and communal doors were upgraded as part of the council’s high rise improvement work and there has also been “extensive fire-stopping work”.

The council said it has “made improvements to how concierge and caretaking staff are trained to maintain building safety” after this was highlighted as an issue.

He said a premises information box will be installed at Godfrey House “in the coming month