Fatal fires, like Lakanal House in Camberwell, will continue to happen while fire safety engineers continue to question the lifesaving merits of the most effective smoke control solution.

But now, it’s time for the debating to stop and for action to take priority over industry politics – says fan engineering consultant Jim Wild.

This week Jim has argued his case in a letter to Housing Minister John Healey and the Leader of the House of Commons Harriett Harman who is also MP for Camberwell and Peckham.

The letter is a response to Terrie Alafat, of the Department for Communities and Local Government’s Housing and Planning Group, who wrote to local authority housing chiefs following the Lakanal House tragedy.

In the event of a fire, he says, people in high-rise residential and commercial office blocks have a right to expect a clear exit route that isn’t blocked by smoke – “and the accepted best way to achieve this is by pressurisation.”

Jim, a chartered engineer with Manchester-based smoke control specialists Fire Engineering Associates has designed and installed more than 100 pressurised systems over the last decade.

“It’s the only system where the basis of the design is to prevent smoke from entering the escape route in the first place. And in older buildings, like Lakanal House, even adding a simplified pressurisation or powered extraction system would measurably improve safety. How better is that for both occupants and firefighters?

“Yet, even for new buildings, so-called experts still debate the advantages of natural ventilation – where the idea is to allow smoke to get into the escape or entry route … and then be ventilated. This is generally accepted as less reliable, and is under review, but is still allowed in modern residential building regulations. It’s time for that to change – because people usually die in smoke, not fire.”

Earlier this year Fire Engineering Associates argued their belief in pressurisation for a series of features in fire safety and building construction magazines because, says Jim, “correctly designed and installed, it’s easily the best form of protection.

“And surely it’s possible, when major refurbishments are planned for older residential blocks like Lakanal House, for authorities to carry out wider-ranging fire risk assessments and include better smoke control systems, for a relatively small cost, instead of spending on cosmetics like repairing and painting walls.

“New residential developments, however, can be designed with fully pressurised systems – even though the new British standard 9999, which came into force in April, so far only requires this for commercial properties over 30 metres high.

“But how does a fire know the type of building it’s destroying or what kind of occupants are inside?”

NOTE TO NEWS EDITORS: If you would like to expand this argument and examine the issue in greater detail then Jim Wild is available for interview.
Please contact 0161 976 2729

Issued on behalf of Fire Engineering Associates Ltd, Unit Nine, The School House, Second Avenue, Trafford Park, Manchester M17 1DZ; Tel: 0161 8727760

Press enquiries: Graham King – tel: 0161 976 2729, 07850 280213,

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