Following the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower in London, we want to reassure all our tenants that we do all we can to keep you safe. We have created some Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about fire safety. We will be updating these regularly. Please contact us (firesafety@southampton.gov.uk) if you have a question that is not answered on this page.

Questions about cladding and insulation on our buildings

How do we know that our home doesn’t have the same kind of cladding as was used at Grenfell Towers?

We have carried out our own checks and confirmed with the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) that the council has not used any of the Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding panels of the type used at Grenfell Towers on our buildings.

The product that we use as part of our External Wall Insulation (EWI) system in 11 tower blocks (Dumbleton Towers, Meredith Towers, Hightown Towers, Albion Towers, Shirley Towers, Sturminster House, Havre Towers, Hampton Towers, Rotterdam Towers, Oslo Towers and Copenhagen Towers) is called Rockwool and is non-combustible. This is considered to be a safe, standard, robust system that is fully certified. This is directly fixed to the structure of the building and before a fire resistant render is applied to the surface.

The council has received assurance from the manufacturer and installer of the EWI system that it is safe and non-combustible. Full fire risk assessments were carried out prior to installation. EWI is not cladding.

What is external wall insulation (EWI)?

External wall insulation (EWI) is a system consisting of high-performance insulation which is fitted directly to the external walls of our tower blocks that not only insulates, but protects the exterior with an attractive, smooth rendered finish in a colour selected by residents. EWI improves the thermal efficiency of the buildings, by wrapping them in insulation, thus reducing the heat loss and saving energy to heat homes.

The product that we use in 11 tower blocks (Dumbleton Towers, Meredith Towers, Hightown Towers, Albion Towers, Shirley Towers, Sturminster House, Havre Towers, Hampton Towers, Rotterdam Towers, Oslo Towers and Copenhagen Towers) is called Rockwool and is non-combustible. External Wall Insulation is not cladding.

What is the situation with regard to Southampton City Council's review of council tower blocks and has Southampton City Council submitted samples from its council tower blocks for testing?

The council reviewed the render-based system used on our tower blocks during the week of 19 June for the government review, and none were found to have cladding of the same, or similar, type to that used at Grenfell Towers. There was, therefore, no need to carry out further tests and the government has only requested testing of samples from local authorities who were found to have cladding of the same or similar type to that used at Grenfell Towers. The external wall insulation system on our high rise tower blocks is categorised as ‘non-combustible.’

How many buildings are scheduled for EWI installation?

External Wall Insulation (EWI) has recently been installed in eight tower blocks in Thornhill and Weston as part of the council's ECO Project works. Work is currently well-advanced to install EWI in a further three tower blocks: Shirley Towers, Sturminster House and Albion Towers.

Questions about fire safety, evacuation procedures and inspections

I have not received any information about fire safety from the council since the Grenfell Towers fire and am concerned. Have I missed something?

Following the tragic incident at Grenfell Towers, we have shared a letter about fire safety with tenants and leaseholders in most of our tower blocks. If you have not already received an update, you will be getting one soon.

Our Block Reps and Tenant Participation Team have organised a series of local information sessions for tower block residents. These drop-in sessions, which began 20 June in Millbrook, allow residents from our tower blocks to talk to staff, the fire service and others, ask questions, and view videos showing the non-combustibility of the external wall insulation (EWI) that we have fitted.

Has the council reviewed its fire evacuation procedures, and building fire risk assessments (FRAs) in the wake of the Grenfell Towers tragedy?

All of our tower blocks have up-to-date Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs). We are nonetheless reviewing these and are undertaking a series of inspections with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service to double-check our safety measures and procedures.

The ‘Stay Put’ policy remains the best one in case of a fire in your building– if the fire is in your own, or a neighbour’s flat, get out, shut your front door and phone the fire service. If the fire is in another flat then stay put, close your windows and doors; if you need to leave the building, then the emergency services will tell you what you have to do.

How often are council housing properties inspected for their fire safety?

The council has profiled its premises into four categories: A-D. Category A premises are High profile - defined as Unfamiliar Sleeping Accommodation, High Rise and complex Buildings. Our independent fire safety assessor--3SFire Ltd--does annual reviews of our high rise blocks. They undertake a full Fire Risk Assessment of Category ‘A’ premises every four years. Assessors carry out base-line reviews, annually, on each of the other three years.

The following fire safety checks are carried out in our all of our tower blocks:

  • Dry risers tested / checked every six months
  • Fire alarms tested / serviced every six months
  • Emergency lighting checked monthly
  • Wardens also carry out additional regular checks of various fire safety control measures e.g. emergency lighting / fire doors / escape routes (in corridors / stairwells). These checks are recorded.
  • Fire safety information is regularly included in Tenants' Link, the online tenants’ publication (Sign up for Tenants' Link)
  • Housing works closely with Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, including involvement in major projects like planned sprinkler installation

My lifts don’t work and I am elderly/disabled. How do I evacuate in case of fire if I cannot go down stairs?

In the event of a fire, lifts should not be used. If your lift is not working, please report it immediately to our Repairs Service on Tel 023 8083 3006 or on our Report a repair page or via actionline@southampton.gov.uk

The ‘Stay Put’ policy is also the best one for a fire in a low-rise building – if the fire is in your own, or a neighbour’s flat, get out, shut your front door and phone the fire service. If the fire is in another flat then stay put, close your windows and doors; if you need to leave the building, then the emergency services will tell you what you have to do.

Why don’t we have any fire evacuation signs or smoke alarms in the communal area? What fire safety measures are already installed in housing properties?

Our regular Fire Risk Assessments (FRAs) should identify where additional signage is required. The FRA looks to assess the risks associated with the building in the event of a fire and identify suitable measures to address these. Measures introduced are therefore specific to the block and situation present, not a generic solution to be applied across all housing stock.

Emergency fire exits cannot be opened from the outside and have a simple push bar to open on the inside. In the event of a fire, the automatic entrance door is overridden and these doors are open.

Why do some tower blocks only have one evacuation staircase?

The following tower blocks have one evacuation stairwell: Canberra Towers, Millbrook Towers, Redbridge Towers, Albion Towers, Shirley Towers, Sturminster House, Castle House, St James House, Canute House and Holyrood House. These blocks only have one stairwell as that was the original design which met the requirements at the time of construction.

The ‘Stay Put’ policy is the best one in the event of fire in your building – if the fire is in your own, or a neighbour’s flat, get out, shut your front door and phone the Fire Service. If the fire is in another flat then stay put, close your windows and doors; if you need to leave the building, then the Emergency Services will tell you what you have to do. The design of the blocks is such that flats are designed to stop fire spreading.

Why don’t we hear the fire alarms in our property?

The fire service need to gain access to the building as quickly as they can to extinguish any fire – a fire alarm would mean that everyone would evacuate simultaneously, potentially impeding the Fire Service access as well as creating a hazard for those exiting the building.

We have the Stay Put policy as this is the safest for residents – if the fire is in your own, or a neighbour’s flat, get out, shut your front door and phone the fire service. If the fire is in another flat then stay put, close your windows and doors, if you need to leave the building then the emergency services will tell you what you have to do.

Questions about sprinkler systems

Why haven’t all tower blocks in Southampton been retrofitted with sprinkler systems?

The council has been working closely with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, specialist fire safety consultant 3SFire, and our specialist installation contractors, on a timetable for installing sprinkler systems in tower blocks to make them even safer.

Albion Towers, Shirley Towers and Sturminster House were prioritised for installation of the sprinkler systems, because of their design. Work is now underway at Albion Towers and work to install sprinkler systems at Shirley Towers and Sturminster House will start over the next few weeks.

We are finalising the rest of the programme of work with our contractor, with a view to starting on Canberra Towers, Redbridge Towers and Millbrook Towers later this year.

Our flats/block was/were recently refurbished, but there were no sprinklers installed. Why not?

The council has been working closely with the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, specialist fire safety consultant 3SFire, and our specialist installation contractors, on a timetable for installing sprinkler systems in tower blocks to make them even safer.

Albion Towers, Shirley Towers and Sturminster House were prioritised for installation of the sprinkler systems, because of their design. Work is now underway at Albion Towers and work to install sprinkler systems at Shirley Towers and Sturminster House will start over the next few weeks. 

We are finalising the rest of the programme of work with our contractor, with a view to starting on Canberra Towers, Redbridge Towers and Millbrook Towers later this year.

How many Southampton City Council tower blocks will be fitted with sprinkler systems?

We will be retrofitting sprinkler systems in 19 tower blocks.

Other fire safety concerns

Should I be concerned about leaky or draughty windows in our building compromising its ability to contain a fire?

No. The structure of our tower block flats is designed to afford a high level of protection in the event of a fire and to contain the fire in the flat where it started, long enough for the fire brigade to attend and take action; however, the windows are not designed to contain fire.

The External Wall Insulation (EWI) systems present on our tower blocks are non-combustible mineral-based materials with a concrete render and have a high level of fire protection to minimise the spread of fire.

My tower block has gas cookers. Should I be concerned about them as a fire hazard?

Twelve of our tower blocks have gas supply. The safe installation and maintenance of gas supply in any building is something that we and the gas distribution networks treat with the utmost of seriousness, ensuring that they are compliant with all relevant technical and safety regulations to maintain public safety.

The safety performance of gas supply companies is closely monitored by the energy regulator OFGEM and the Health and Safety Executive. We also carry out our own annual checks.

Network gas risers—external and internal—and associated lateral pipework in our buildings are owned by the Gas Distribution Network (GDN), installed in accordance with Industry Legislation and Standards, and inspected and maintained at regular intervals by GDN, in accordance with Industry Legislation and Standards as well as internal Company Management Procedures.

What can I do about fire safety in my building?

You can help protect your home against fires by reviewing Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s advice about home fire safety such as regularly checking your flat’s smoke alarm, keeping corridors free, calling 999 quickly when a fire occurs, familiarising yourself with the Stay Put policy in the event of a fire and shutting fire doors.

You can also take extra care when cooking to ensure that pans are not left unattended. Double-check that you have turned the heat off and taken the pan off the heat when you have finished cooking.

For more information about fire safety in high rise accommodations, please visit the Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s High Rise Living page.