Fire Inquest Verdicts Urge Sprinkler Retrofitting

The jury returned verdicts for each of six deaths involved in the Lakanal House high-rise residential fire in July 2009 in south London, citing conflicting advice from emergency call centers and renovations that left the structure more vulnerable to fires.

A British inquest jury has issued numerous recommendations intended to prevent a recurrence of the July 3, 2009, fire at the Lakanal House residential high-rise in which six people died. Most of the recommendations were directed to the London Fire Brigade and the major and city leaders of Southwark. If heeded, they will alter the brigade's fire education and make its emergency call centers' advice more consistent, while increasing its personnel's knowledge of the layouts of high-rise structures.

The fire spread rapidly, both upward and downward, because renovations made to the high-rise had decreased its compartmentalization capability, the jury concluded. In a letter to the brigade's leaders, Assistant Deputy Coroner Frances Kirkham noted there were six changes of incident commander during the fire and urged that the brigade review how and when incident command is transferred. Testimony by other residents of the high-rise indicated they had little awareness of fire safety advice published by the brigade, whether from leaflets, home fire safety visits, or its website. The jury recommended that the brigade review its procedures for home fire safety visits and consider having fire crews familiarize themselves with the layouts of high-rise buildings.

The British government was urged to consider requiring owners of high-rise residential buildings to provide information on or near the premises, such as premises information boxes or plates.

The inquests began Jan. 14, 2013, and concluded March 28.

In a statement posted on the brigade’s website, London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said, "This was a tragic fire and I would like to express my personal sadness and offer condolences from all at the London Fire Brigade to the families and loved ones of those who died on 3 July 2009. For every member of the London Fire Brigade, however experienced, being involved in a fatal fire is difficult, and this incident was particularly harrowing with six people, including three children, losing their lives. From the outset we have worked with the police to investigate the cause of the fire and have welcomed the opportunity that these inquests have provided to help find out what happened. London Fire Brigade is committed to providing Londoners with the highest standards of service, and our policies and procedures are under constant review. We learn from every incident and the fire at Lakanal is no exception. Since July 2009, we have reviewed a number of our procedures and policies to address the issues that were raised. We will now consider the jury’s verdict and the recommendations that the coroner has made."

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