Sprinkler systems in Birmingham’s 213 council towers blocks will protect property but not save lives, a fire safety expert has warned.
Labour councillor Dr Barry Henley made his assessment as demands increased for £19.4 million of Government cash to help install sprinkler systems after last year’s Grenfell Tower tragedy .
Coun Henley (Brandwood) was chief executive for Chubb Fire Engineering and worked on designing safety systems in buildings around the world - some up to 60 storeys high.
He has advised on British and European fire regulations and developed new safety warning systems for escalators following the fatal Kings Cross fire in 1987.
Coun Henley said sprinklers would be a “ridiculous” and costly mistake.
“Sprinklers protect property,” he said.
“In the UK we protect life by preventing fires, stopping the spread of fire, and depriving them of fuel.
“The main killers in a fire are smoke and carbon monoxide and sprinklers give no protection against them.
“Each apartment is a separate enclosure so that fire cannot spread from one to another.”
Coun Henley said it would be better to invest in more early-warning and alarm systems to enable residents to escape or stay in their flats.
He said: “The Grenfell fire would not have been stopped by a sprinkler system since it was started in a kitchen by a fridge compressor fire.
“Because of the use of chip pans, you cannot have a sprinkler in a kitchen.
“Water on an oil fire causes a fireball explosion.”
A further complication is the lack of water pressure, meaning extra tanks and pumps would need to be installed – creating havoc for tenants and increasing the likelihood of water damage from leaks, burst pipes and vandalism.
“The council already spends thousands of pounds on compensation for water damage and this would increase enormously if sprinklers were fitted,” Coun Henley warned.
He said the “present fire safety arrangements have been adequate for 50 years in our tower blocks”.
“In that time residents have set their flats alight, arsonists have ignited rubbish in chutes and furniture in lobbies and lifts, yet no fire has spread through a building.
“Sprinklers are unnecessary and it is ridiculous to suggest we spend large sums of money on them.”
Former Birmingham Labour council leader John Clancy promised to install sprinklers in apartment blocks after Grenfell.
The council has been asking for Government money ever since.
The latest exchange saw Erdington MP Jack Dromey echo a demand for the £19.4 million funding, to add to £11.6 million found from Birmingham City Council housing budgets.
Mr Dromey said: “It cannot be right that, seven months on from the tragedy of Grenfell Tower, 10,000 households in 213 tower blocks are waiting for the necessary action to ensure their safety.”
Government ministers said they were considering plans and awaiting the outcome of the Grenfell inquiry.