As the most recent casualty reports bring the number of presumed dead in the Grenfell Tower fire to 79, viewers across the world are braced to learn more about the tragedy’s cause. Many critics, residents, and some British officials are laying blame at the feet of the owner and maintainer of the property, the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization. Stateside, we’re left wondering: Could a tragedy of this scale happen here?
It’s too early to point fingers, but the property's safety record has been called into question time and time again, according to the New York Times. Many wonder now if the same thing could happen to them. We’ll examine some of the circumstances surrounding the Grenfell Tower fire and the realities of fire injury prevention in the United States.
"Are Our Regulations Correct? Were They Complied With?"
Grenfell Tower’s construction was completed in 1974. An $11 million refurbishment last year by construction and maintenance company Rydon added cheap plastic cladding to the exterior of the structure. The company could have paid a small premium for hardier, more fire-resistant exterior coating, but chose not to.
That cladding has become a major point of contention. It’s already banned in the European Union and the United States. But remarkably, it's also banned in the United Kingdom, according to Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer — roughly equivalent to the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.
Hammond suggested there were two things investigators and politicians must ask. "One: are our regulations correct, do they permit the right kind of materials and ban the wrong kind of materials? The second question is: were they correctly complied with?" Despite Hammond's assertion, the cladding still found its way onto Grenfell Tower, and a slew of other buildings in the country in recent years.
Like the United Kingdom, strong regulatory bodies tend to act to keep Americans safe. In fact, Robert Solomon, leader of the Building and Life Safety Codes division at the National Fire Protection Association, told the Washington Post "We have a really good track record with our high-rise buildings in the last 20 to 25 years." Solomon also noted that some states, particularly in the South, had higher fatality rates than others.
But as the Chancellor of the Exchequer suggested, compliance may be the real issue. While the cladding problem in particular is not likely an issue in the United States, a lone landlord or property owner can neglect his or her duty and fail to modernize their building or bring it into code compliance.
A modern high-rise or high occupancy building often receives a full suite of firefighting tools: smoke detectors, fire alarms, modern sprinkler systems, adequate stairwells, and a bevy of emergency exits. But this isn't always the case. A single landlord may ignore fire safety regulations and endanger the lives of you and your family, and landlord neglect contributes to a significant fire issue across the United States.
Poor Infrastructure Has No Nationality
Building things is one of humanity’s most storied pastimes, but we’ve spent about as much time neglecting what we’ve built once we've finished. Maintenance is often an afterthought, and in far more than just high-rise apartments. Your apartment could have faulty wiring, poorly maintained appliances, and gas leaks that all can contribute to fires, and may signal landlord negligence.
Bad fire prevention policies can lead to a fire or other disaster, too. Examples of cutting corners on building safety can include failing to install adequate smoke detectors and blocking or neglecting to construct fire escapes. But more alarming is the potential construction companies or landlords are using the wrong materials to build a structure or address potential problems that crop up on their property later.
Your landlord or property owner's responsibilities vary greatly from city to city and state to state, but common trends identified by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development include:
- Working smoke detectors in each bedroom and outside sleeping areas;
- Safe wiring and electrical outlets;
- An accessible, unblocked fire escape, plus multiple other ways to escape; and
- Working fire extinguishers on the property
Many of the places we work, visit, and even call home every day are subjected to neglect on the part of landlords, owners, and administrators. You don’t have to stand for that injustice.
Buildings Don’t Fail. People Do.
The buck stops with the building owner or landlord. Neglecting the safety needs of your property is unacceptable, and can lead to deadly accidents like the Grenfell Tower fire. These kind of accidents are not unique to any country, and could affect you and your loved ones here in the United States.
If you think your building isn’t safe and your landlord is ignoring your attempts to improve the situation, or you’ve been injured in an accident in an unsafe building, don’t hesitate to contact our team of knowledgeable attorneys. We may be able to assist you in seeking justice. Fill out our risk-free, no-obligation case evaluation form today to begin the process.
Feature photo editorial credit: C. Hoyer / Shutterstock.com