Grenfell Tower

So let’s try to unpack this horror a bit, shall we? I happened to watch it almost in real time (on Sky) and I was appalled as it went up. As I said yesterday, it reminded me of the WTC more than anything – essentially all the heroism in the world from the emergency services (and they were, as always) of very little utility, the effects were more like the actions of a particularly malevolent god than anything else.

The best general write up I’ve read as to underlying causes was, not surprisingly on The Conservative Woman. In the immense comment stream, it degenerates a bit into partisan backbiting. Well, what doesn’t these days?

But here’s what I think I know.

  • It’s a high rise (24 stories) with one staircase and two elevators. Not uncommon, there or here, but one must always remember that once you get past roughly 10 floors the fire department is restricted to internal access. 150 feet is about all mobile equipment can reach.
  • Supposedly it was constructed to contain fire, reinforced concrete construction, fire doors and such. Normal stuff, not all that expensive, usually effective. Failed here.
  • A cladding was applied to the building, for appearance and insulation. Some reports say it was not fire resistant. It’s possible it wasn’t, but apply enough heat and almost anything will burn. What appeared to happen here is that fire got behind the cladding and into the insulation. I’ve heard that insulation described as Celotex (may or may not be true), but almost all insulation will either burn or melt, and if it does behind the cladding, it will form a flue (much like a chimney) and heat will rise very quickly feeding the flames. That is what the fire looked like on TV.
  • No sprinklers. May or may not have mattered in the public spaces. Which is all that is usually required. If they had been installed in the apartments may well have contained it, and most also have an automatic alarm, both local and fire department, which would help. Apparently, this building grandfathered the requirement, but best practice would have seen them installed.
  • No (or inaudible) local fire alarm. Inexcusable, in my mind at least.
  • Open windows. England has little air conditioning, and none here, so windows were open, increasing draft for the fire. Well, not really a lot you can do about that.
  • Lots of immigrants in the building. Not a big deal, maybe, but cultural practices do matter. May have been lots of flammable artifacts about, prayer rugs, this, that, and the other. I have also seen immigrants here cooking over open flames (improvised firepits and such) very dangerous in a multi-story building. Don’t know, but might be worth looking at. Also were firedoors kept shut? Canada, for instance, requires that the door to a connected garage have an self-closing mechanism.
  • One that will surprise Americans. There are reports of an exploding refrigerator. That’s something that just doesn’t happen here. Why? Because we use CFCs for refrigerants. If they leak and burn, they can cause phosgene poisoning, but the systems are sealed and pretty much bulletproof. Never, not once, in the last 50 years have I heard of a problem. Europe is different. They use Isobutane, essentially what we call LP gas. Yeah, the same stuff that we use in our barbecue grills, and sometimes stoves and furnaces where natural gas is not available. I won’t have it in my house for any reason, not least because, unlike natural gas, it is heavier than air and will accumulate, and a very small spark (static electricity from a woolen rug, say) can set it off. The other thing is, it’s a small molecule (unlike CFCs) and much harder to seal permanently. LP is every bit as flammable as acetylene that is used for welding, in fact, Oxy-propane is very often used for cutting torches because it burns hotter. Now get a leak in your refrigerator, and a spark in the thermostat, and you have an explosion, and not a small one. Why do they do this? Because the EU has banned CFCs for environmental reasons (we’ve changed our formulations too. The new ones aren’t as effective, but less damaging to the ozone layer).¹

Overall, this was a systemic failure, old Murphy was working overtime. The problems just piled one on the other, and as a result, likely more than a hundred people are dead and died horribly. If I understand the building was council owned (rather like an overpowered city council combined with the zoning board) and managed by a (no doubt connected) non-profit. Strikes me as plenty of room for corruption to sneak in as well, although I have no proof of anything like that. But the one thing we know about bureaucrats is that they can almost never be forced to take responsibility for anything. I doubt anything different than that here.

And yes, the pseudo pious virtue signaling, blame passing, and all those games have already started. Not to mention the wingeing about how we don’t have enough money.

¹ ISOBUTANE

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About NEO
Lineman, Electrician, Industrial Control technician, Staking Engineer, Inspector, Quality Assurance Manager, Chief Operations Officer

8 Responses to Grenfell Tower

  1. Ike Jakson says:

    Great Blog NEO of Nebraska. How you keep it UP I don’t know but you seem to have no end.

    Liked by 2 people

    • NEO says:

      People keep doing stuff that interests me, I guess, Ike. There are days, though.

      Like

      • Ike Jakson says:

        Yup NEO, and our days are numbered now, aren’t they?

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          We ain’t gettin’ any younger, and that’s a fact, Ike. Some days I look around and think, “Thank God.” And others I think the best is yet to come. Guess I’ll do what the ‘Boss’ wants, an let it go at that.

          Like

  2. The older I get the more depressing I find it that people don’t even wait for the bodies to get cold before they incorporate a new tragedy into a pre-existing narrative. I’m perfectly willing to believe that wicked capitalists or feckless tenants or green regulations or insufficient regulations of any kind are to blame. I can better form a judgement after rather than before an investigation but there, it seems, I am less perceptive than many of my fellow citizens who have unerring, if mutually contradictory, instincts in such matters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      Yeah, exactly. I have some idea what happened, but I’ve spent an entire career in construction and building safety, and I don’t know. I just wanted to show how all kinds of things can impact on this sort of thing. Even after the investigation, I wouldn’t bet we completely know, because it will be in the interplay of the various things that the tragedy became uncontrollable. In truth, the real lesson is, I think, “Life has risks”. We will never be able to guard against them all, and if we did, life would be unbearable.

      Like

      • No doubt there were things done which were better left undone and vice versa. An inquiry will probably learn enough to save an untold number of future lives from prematurely and horribly ending even if we never know all the reasons for this fire. This becomes less likely the more any possible inquiry findings are preempted or discounted for purely partisan political reasons.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I agree. Any inquiry to be effective must be just as cold and non-partisan as we can make it. That seems increasingly difficult in our countries and it will cost lives, I fear. A public circus serves no one,, least of all the victims, but I fear that is what we’ll get.

          Liked by 1 person

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