Litany of fire safety issues at Islington tower block saw council slapped with an enforcement notice

Godfrey House on St Luke’s estate. Photograph: 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.

The blaze at the three-bedroom home of London Ambulance Service worker Jodie Meloche McQuade and her three children was tackled by 70 firefighters.  Fifty residents left the building while it was being brought under control.

After the fire, London Fire Brigade inspected the tower block and highlighted problems in a detailed letter seen by the Citizen.

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”.

One resident said she was concerned about Grenfell after the fire this year and another nearby fire last year: “The Grenfell story affects people.”

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

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

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

Freeman has her own fire plan if there is an emergency.

Resident John Loates wasn’t aware of the enforcement notice on his building. Photograph: Julia Gregory

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” at Godfrey House.

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.

Entrance to Godfrey House. Photograph: Julia Gregory

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 in the tower block.

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.

Other problems included a faulty emergency light on the roof escape route.

The FRA also advised the council to put a premises information box in a prominent place. It should include key information for firefighters such as layout drawings and the location of vulnerable residents.

This followed recommendations at the Grenfell Inquiry after the fatal fire in which 72 people died.

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 as part of fire safety compartmentation.

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

A spokesman said: “Islington Council is committed to ensuring that everyone in the borough has a place to call home which is secure, decent and genuinely affordable.

“Fire safety will always be a top priority for the council, and we remain committed to compliance with the latest fire safety regulations on all our estates.

“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 told the Citizen that 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.

The spokesman said: “The council is constantly training its teams to improve safety.”

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