MLA calls for sprinklers to be installed following blaze at tower block

One flat has been left severely damaged, with 17 other apartments affected at the 14-storey Coolmoyne House in Dunmurry. Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan

AN MLA and former firefighter has called for a sprinkler system to be installed at a tower block near Belfast after a blaze spread throughout part of the building.

Two people are in a stable condition in hospital after Wednesday's blaze at Coolmoyne House in Dunmurry, which is thought to have been caused by a toaster.

Lagan Valley representative Robbie Butler was speaking as the majority of residents affected by the fire were allowed to return home.

Residents had been evacuated from the flats and spent several hours out of their homes as firefighters tackled the blaze at the 14 storey-high block.

The Housing Executive - which has said it will conduct a review - said the flat on the ninth floor was severely damaged while 17 other apartments were also affected by water or smoke damage.

Residents spoke of their anger that there were no alarms or sprinklers to warn them and said they feared could have been victims of a Grenfell Tower-style tragedy.

The blaze at the London high rise, which engulfed the flats complex five months ago, claimed 71 lives.

Mr Butler, who used to serve the area as a firefighter before entering politics, said: "I think given the lessons we are learning from Grenfell, any building like this has to be a consideration for the retrospective fitting of sprinklers.

"They estimated that it would cost £200,000 to put them in in Grenfell, but this is a much smaller building. Ultimately you cannot put a cost on human life," the Ulster Unionist assembly member said.

"They are spending money on sprinklers for the renovation of Westminster. With the greatest of respect, Westminster doesn't offer a sleeping hazard. If the fire had broken out at 2-3am this could have been far worse."

Tommy Jackson, from the Seymour Hill and Conway Residents Association, first heard about the fire through Facebook and said that he "feared there would be people dead" when he arrived on the scene.

A JustGiving page has been set up by the Residents' Association and aims to raise £1,000 for residents affected.

DUP leader Arlene Foster was among those to visit the flats and said she was "grateful for no fatalities and the speedy response of emergency services, agencies and voluntary organisations".

"Everyone has pulled together during this frightening experience," said the former first minister.

Red Cross volunteers provided support to residents, including temporary shelter in a specially adapted motorhome.

Rev David Boyland, the rector at the nearby St Hilda's Church of Ireland, said: "There was a real sense of fear, everyone was talking about Grenfell."

The Fire Service, which sent 55 firefighters to tackle the blaze, provided advice to residents yesterday and and urged anyone living in high-rise accommodation and concerned about fire safety to contact them.

A particular type of cladding used on the Grenfell Tower was later found to have failed fire safety tests, but Coolmoyne House is not a cladded building.

In August, The Irish News revealed that plans to clad tower blocks had been shelved following the Grenfell disaster.

None of the Housing Executive's tower blocks, which were built in the 1960s and 1970s, have sprinkler systems installed as they "are not currently a requirement of building control or fire regulations".

An independent reference group was set up by the Housing Executive following Grenfell and is reviewing fire safety within its tower blocks.

Fire group commander Geoff Somerville said that residents should "not have concerns" about the fire alarm system.

A Housing Executive spokeswoman said: "In Coolmoyne, each of the 56 flats have two smoke alarms and one heat detector alarm installed. The communal hallways are fitted with a silent smoke detection system, which is monitored 24 hours a day.

"We will be examining all aspects of (Wednesday) night's incident and will take the best advice available on whether any further action needs to be taken."

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