It’s the question in the minds of everyone who lives in a high-rise residential building everywhere after the fire which devastated the Grenfell Tower in London on Wednesday: just how safe is my building? The Dutch papers have been finding out.
All buildings in the Netherlands must adhere to strict fire safety regulations to avoid a disaster like that which hit London. But that applies to residential flats in Britain as well, the Volkskrant said.
Regulations in the Netherlands are spelled out in the national building code, last updated in 2012. This states that residents must be able to leave their apartments quickly and that the fire be contained in its early stages: a minimum of one hour before it spreads into another apartment in the building.
As a result, walls and floors must be fire retardant and equipped with vents which can be closed off during a fire. This provides firefighters with sufficient time to extinguish the blaze.
But it is difficult to meet these specifications, said Emiel van Rossum, founder of the fire prevention academy. ‘There is no building in the Netherlands which meets these criteria completely. That would be utopia.’ The regulations, he said, are so complex that the building industry is not able to carry out everything.
There is a further problem with older high-rise buildings built when regulations were less strict, said Peter van de Leur, former professor of fire safety at Belgium’s Ghent university. And insulation material used in the outer cladding of a building can help spread a fire, he added.
Fire safety expert Ruud van Herpen who is a civil engineer by trade said there are fewer high-rise apartment buildings in the Netherlands. He told Trouw that fire safety regulations are fairly strong.
Nevertheless it remains extremely difficult to come up with good fire safety rules. And certainly not when it’s a major fire. There are about 70 deaths from house fires every year and 1,200 injuries.’ But we find this socially acceptable’, Ven Herpen said.
Daan Jansen, fire safety expert at civil engineering group Haskoning, told the Telegraaf that he had been shocked by the London fire, particularly as more and more offices and tower blocks are stretching past 70 metres.
‘Fire prevention in Britain is the same as here, he said. But sometimes I advise on projects and am shocked at how people are working. At the same time, the government is placing more responsibility on the owners of buildings.’
In particular there can be problems with older buildings, he said. ‘Fire safety is not always understood and sometimes you miss the problems. And some buildings don’t need a permit so are not checked. And building overhauls are not always an improvement.’