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Apartment Block Fires: The What, The Why and our Experts' Advice

“We couldn't believe something like this could happen in a big building like that”. That was a comment made by a resident local to the area of an apartment building fire in July 2022. The fire, which is believed to have started from discarded smoking material during very hot weather, was at a building managed by Encore. So we know, first hand, that fires do happen. 
In our experience, many people believe fires only occur in commercial buildings or where there have been issues with the building’s construction. But fires happen in all types of developments: in modern apartment buildings, small and large blocks, out-of-town and city centre schemes.  
Large fires, which cause significant or devastating damage, are rare but we can't afford to be complacent. There’s no room for an attitude of “this will never happen here”. That’s why we’ve created this article: detailing how and why we prioritise fire safety; why it’s a conversation we’re having now, and the role of the managing agent.  
In 20 years, Encore has been ‘fortunate’ to ‘only’ have to deal with two major fires (that’s still two too many). But rather than not talk about them, we feel it is important to share key lessons: fires can happen; fire maintenance is very important (it’s never “a box-ticking exercise”) and residents need to be cautious and prepared. In all cases of fire that Encore has dealt with, despite the serious damage and enormous distress that these incidents caused, residents and visitors were always safe: they were able to evacuate in an orderly manner following the indications of the fire brigades involved.  
Both passive fire protection measures (such as compartmentation) and active fire protection measures (like smoke detectors) worked to protect residents from the fire and allowed them to evacuate. This is a direct testimony to the importance of a robust fire safety maintenance and management regime. 
We hope by sharing our experiences we’ll highlight that this fire safety maintenance and management really is crucial – and does save lives.  At Encore we prioritise the very highest standards for resident safety - and that also minimises damage when fires do happen.  

Smoke detector

Why are we talking about apartment block fire safety now?

Since the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower in 2017 and its tragic consequences, there has been a huge focus on fire safety with new legislation and Government funding for remediation projects in buildings taller than 18m.  
The events at Grenfell Tower have made the conversation about apartment block fire safety widespread, from policymakers through to residents becoming increasingly aware of its importance. And rightly so - but at Encore it’s always been a priority. It’s vital that no-one thinks “fires don’t happen”. Yet, it surprises many to find out that last year Fire and Rescue Services attended approximately 10,000 dwelling fires involving apartments.  
Because we’re acutely aware of the fact apartment fires do happen, at Encore we’ve continued to dedicate ourselves to the best standard of fire safety. And that means we’ve been well placed to keep apace with legislative changes in recent years. 
But we haven’t just been setting the standard high for fire safety in property management – we've been putting it into action, along with our exceptionally good disaster response. The Encore  team of property management and health and safety experts have dealt, first-hand, with fires and the steps required in the aftermath.  

What’s the role of a managing agent during, and after, an apartment block fire? 

One of the many benefits of having a large, experienced team is that someone else has normally experienced dealing with a particular situation. So when fires have occurred we pull together our collective knowledge to get the best outcome in what is a challenging, high-pressured situation.  
Where it’s been appropriate, when large fires have happened our team has been at the site of the incident - helping to provide building and structural information to fire teams. Thanks to our out-of-hours emergency contact system, we’re able to respond appropriately whatever the time. 
In the days following a fire, the Encore team will often attend the site and as soon as possible register a claim with the insurer. A loss adjustor will be appointed and communication established with the RMC board of directors to ensure they are aware of the required next steps and each other's responsibilities.  
We’ll also establish regular, frequent communications with leaseholders. That can be through means such as an online group or through our customer portal. It’s critically important that residents are kept up-to-date with what’s happening. 
Of course, the details of the steps taken following a fire depend on the severity of the damage caused, the type of building and where it is situated. Encore liaises with parties from surveyors, loss adjustors and other professional bodies to ensure the right course of action is taken - whether that is remedial works, demolition or something else.  
Dean Clarke, Encore’s Estate Management Director, is keen to highlight, however, that the aftermath of a substantial fire is rarely a straightforward process: 

“Our immediate priority is the wellbeing of residents who have suffered loss. We attend the estate as soon as possible, and work with fire teams to make sure everyone is safe. In the following hours and days we make sure all parties involved know what the process will be – and we let residents know what they need to do to.  
The aftermath of a fire is a distressing time, so we make sure we’re on hand to answer any questions. We aim to be a point of reassurance and stability in a time that is uprooting and confusing.  
In the weeks, months and years that follow we know the systems and processes to navigate are complicated, and challenges will inevitably arise. But that’s why we draw on our experience and expertise to navigate these challenges with professionalism, regardless of the high-pressure situation.  
Our expertise isn’t only drawn from experience though, it’s also the result of extensive work behind the scenes. We don’t sit back until a fire happens, we continually channel resource into making sure we’re at the peak of our industry for fire safety.”  

The ongoing work Encore does to ensure the best standards of fire safety stretch from ensuring we’re accredited to international standards, to participating in Health and Safety Executive consultations to shape the future of Building Safety Act implementation.  
We proactively released our Fire Safety Resident Engagement Strategy and our dedicated Health and Safety team - along with our fire safety taskforce - stay ahead of all key developments and shape best practice. Even the systems we use have been tailored to ensure effective fire safety documentation - giving our teams critical information whenever they need it. 

Fire safety in residential blocks 

We understand that there’s a lot to navigate when it comes to fire safety - and the stakes are high. If a fire does happen, it’s vital that the right steps are taken to minimise the impact on leaseholders, freeholders and residents. The remediation (or other) works can take years to be completed, and in our experience that means ongoing, extensive work from RMCs and the managing agent to ensure the best possible outcomes.  
Fire safety, fire prevention and managing the aftermath of a fire all have a direct impact on people and their homes. That’s why we’ve dedicated resources and expertise to making sure we’re always doing the best we can. And it’s why we’ll continue to share our knowledge and experiences with you too; so we can all work towards the very best standards for apartment block fire safety, and so we can lean on each other’s expertise if, or when, a fire does happen.