Call for sprinkler systems to be installed in Southend tower blocks without delay

A FIRE safety campaigner has called for a scheme to fit high-rise tower blocks in Southend with sprinkler systems more than year after the £5.5million project was first announced.

Southend Council pledged to make the borough’s tower blocks safer following London’s Grenfell tower fire tragedy.

The council is currently completing £400,000 work in Cecil Court in Jones Close as a pilot project before rolling it out to other blocks, but the scheme was announced in February last year.

The work also comes in the wake of the death of Khabi Abrey, 30, who died in 2016 with her unborn baby after an arson attack in Balmoral flats in Westcliff.

Town centre tower blocks in Queensway are set to be demolished when the area is rebuilt but Southend fire safety campaigner, Colin Nickless, called for the sprinklers to be installed without further delay.

He said: “There are no fire alarms in communal areas and no sprinklers. If fire doors are fitted properly people have 30 minutes but they are relying on someone spotting a fire and raising the alarm.

“I know some of the tower blocks are going to be demolished but that could take ten years. They should be installed now. It mustn’t be about money”

The sprinkler system was installed as a pilot to make sure everything is as it should be before rolling it out to other blocks.

It will include an “annunciation system” which will allow firefighters to make announcements during an emergency, advising residents to stay put or evacuate.

Anne Jones, cabinet member for communities and housing, said: “We take the safety of our residents incredibly seriously, and the council, through South Essex Homes, has invested substantially in fire safety works, both before and subsequent to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

“This has included installing Gerda fire doors throughout its high-rise estate, and creating Evac Packs, which give emergency services building plans, out of hour contact details for key housing staff and important info about vulnerable residents, as well as other minor fire safety measures.”

“A fire evacuation annunciation system has recently been installed in Longbow, which will allow direct instructions to be given to residents during an emergency such as whether to stay in their home or evacuate, and a sprinkler system is currently being installed in Cecil Court as a pilot.

“Once evaluated and tested, both schemes will be rolled out across the high-rise estate.”

Christine Sexton

Local Democracy Reporter