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Tower block stripped of cladding after Grenfell fitted out with fire alarm system

Cladding is coming off St Francis Tower in Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Cladding is coming off St Francis Tower in Ipswich Picture: RACHEL EDGE

Rachel Edge

Fire alarms are to be fitted at an Ipswich block of flats as part of safety upgrades prompted by the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Heat detectors are being installed in flats at St Francis Tower, which is having its cladding system removed after safety tests triggered by the Grenfell disaster found flaws.

Despite hopes all of the cladding would be off by Christmas, some of it is still on the building after workers ran into issues with gaps behind it.

Those managing the tower expect it to be fully removed in the summer months.

Further improvements are being worked on in the meantime.

New heat detectors are being installed at St Francis Tower in Ipswich Picture: CONTRIBUTEDNew heat detectors are being installed at St Francis Tower in Ipswich Picture: CONTRIBUTED

“Everything is being done to make everyone safe,” said operations director Simon Matthews of Block Management UK Ltd, which took over the building in 2016.

MORE: Flat owners to foot £2.4m tower block safety bill

No fire alarm system had existed at the 17-storey tower before now.

This is because a ‘stay put’ policy was in place there until a decision to remove the cladding was made.

Under these rules, people living in the block were told to ‘stay put’ in the event of a fire – as is common in most high rise buildings – unless it was in their particular flat.

St Francis Tower, in Franciscan Way, pictured before cladding was removed Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNSt Francis Tower, in Franciscan Way, pictured before cladding was removed Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

According to official guidance on this policy, the building should not need to be evacuated.

This changed last summer when the owner of St Francis Tower decided to remove the cladding – and a temporary evacuation policy was put in place instead.

Four staff working around the clock to evacuate the building if there is a fire – known as the waking watch – form part of this new policy, as does the alarm system.

It is hoped that when it is all up and running, the new alarm system will remove the need for – and the cost of – the waking watch.

The alarms work by detecting heat, and are not activated by smoke, bosses said.

And they could soon be supplemented by a full set of automatic air vents and sprinklers, Mr Matthews said.

“Providing the fire alarm system is in place – which it will be in the next two weeks – if the fire risk assessor agrees, the waking watch will no longer be needed,” he added.

MORE: Watch cladding coming off St Francis Tower

Bosses were also keen to stress there was no fire alarm system in place before the cladding came off for good reason.

If there had been one, it would have encouraged people to breach the ‘stay put’ procedure, they said.

It is understood fire risk assessors will carry out further investigations at the tower in the coming weeks.

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