Firefighters have knocked doors in Bolton with a powerful warning for residents after The Cube block blaze and the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
When Grenfell Tower burned in June 2017, residents were told to stay in their flats.
Six years on from the fire, which killed 72 people, lessons are still being learnt.
In the months that followed the fatal inferno, flammable cladding of the kind that covered the London tower block was found on many high-rise residential buildings across the country.
The Grenfell Tower fire
Some has now been removed, but where it has not, new fire safety measures and evacuation polices have been put in place.
In many cases, the standard "stay put" guidance for high-rise buildings has been scrapped in favour of evacuation.
And after a massive blaze broke out at The Cube student block in Bolton town centre in November 2019, more high-rise residents were advised to evacuate their buildings in the event of a fire.
The Cube fire
Outside of the capital, Manchester and Salford are among the most affected by the cladding crisis which has trapped leaseholders in unsafe flats for years, unable to sell their properties and living in fear of their building burning down.
Last year, the government opened a £5bn fund to address fire risks related to cladding on high-rise blocks – but many fire safety issues remain unresolved.
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) is now planning to visit around 120 buildings where the evacuation policy has changed to make sure residents know what to do if a fire breaks out.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service joined firefighters on a "day of action" on Tuesday, August 29 when they knocked on doors in Bolton, Manchester and Salford to offer residents advice, reassurance and a reminder to check their smoke alarms regularly.
Firefighters Simon Hughes and Chris Hyatt at a GMFRS Day of Action at the Spectrum Apartments in Salford (Picture: LDRS)
According to GMFRS, all high-rise buildings have a higher fire risk – but some factors can raise this risk even further.
For Salford’s Spectrum development, the heightened risk is partly because of combustible cladding on the buildings.
Birmingham-based firm Centrick says it was made aware of "fire deficiencies" in the Blackfriars Road development when it became the managing agent of the eight blocks which feature 578 apartments in March 2022.
A year earlier, a temporary change to the evacuation procedure was put in place at the site.
Residents are now advised to evacuate their flats if a fire breaks out instead of following the "Stay Safe, Stay Put" policy which was previously in place.
A "waking watch" is also used at the apartment complex which means trained staff patrol the site to raise the alarm if a fire breaks out in one of the buildings.
Liana Selecka-Jones, who is group manager for the fire service’s prevention department, says that the lifestyles and habits of residents are also factors that affect the risk profile of a building.
“It’s not just about the buildings,” she said.
“It’s your lifestyle, it could be that some people have limited mobility.
“Recently we’ve seen an increase in e-bikes and e-scooters, especially in central Manchester – that’s now quite a common mode of transport.
"So what we’re doing today is talking about general fire safety, but we’re also talking about what to do if you have got an e-scooter or an e-bike, we’ve got information about how to charge it safely, how to buy it from reputable suppliers, we have got information about how to store it safely and so on.”
Speaking to firefighters, several residents reported that there have recently been fires in the building – including one which was said to have started after a resident left a pizza cooking in their oven.
But according to Anthony Lee, who lives in one of the Spectrum buildings, the fire alarm did not go off on his floor.
Firefighter Chris Hyatt said that a smoke alarm will go off in the apartment where it has been detected, but residents must hit the evacuation button at the end of their corridor on the way out to sound the alarm elsewhere too.
Residents were also told to check their smoke alarm at least once a month. Some had not checked their’s for a while – and a few were not working at all.
Ellie Kemp, who has lived in the Spectrum development for around a year, discovered she needed a new battery.
“Testing your alarm is something that I’d assumed I’d done, but actually since moving here I don’t think I have,” she said.
“I think when you’re renting it’s something you assume is sorted, but actually it’s not always sorted.
"I guess you don’t really think it will happen to you, but it’s just a reminder that it’s so important.
“If I hadn’t have been in today, I don’t think I’d have thought twice about testing my alarm unless there was another fire in the building.”
Centrick says it is aware of two recent incidents in individual apartments which the fire brigade attended in both instances and the waking watch staff were praised for their response and handling of the situation.
The company has now secured government funding for the installation of a wireless alarm system to alert all residents when heat detectors in any of the apartments are triggered.
GMFRS said that Spectrum Apartments is not unsafe to live in and explained that the fire safety issues which led to "interim measures" being put in place at the development relate to how the building was made.
Dandara, which was the developer behind Spectrum Apartments, has been contacted for comment.
A Centrick spokesperson said: “Centrick was appointed as managing agent for Spectrum in March 2022.
"On handover we were made aware of the fire deficiencies due to historic cladding issues.
“The current evacuation policy has been in place for some time with clear Fire Safety notices and communication to residents.
"All parties are working together in line with the Building Safety Act and Developer Pledge to remove the combustible materials.
“We are aware of two recent incidents in individual apartments. The fire brigade attended in both instances and the waking watch staff were praised for their response and handling of the situation.
“We continue to collaborate regularly with the Fire and Rescue service which has attended site several times and noted current measures as sufficient.
Centrick has secured additional funding via the waking watch replacement fund 2023 for the installation of an L5 wireless alarm system to alert all occupants when heat detectors in any apartment are triggered.
“Domestic smoke alarms remain in situ and should be tested regularly by occupants.
"In the event of an alarm being triggered, residents are advised to leave their apartment and inform the concierge/waking watch.
"Their apartment fire door self-closes behind them.”