Northampton high-rise resident acts on firefighters' advice in light of Grenfell Tower blaze

Firefighters have been carrying out home safety checks to put high-rise residents minds at ease after the Grenfell Tower fire.
Firefighters have been carrying out home safety checks to put high-rise residents minds at ease after the Grenfell Tower fire.

"There have been occasions where the fire engines have pulled up, alarms have gone off and I’ve had neighbours kicking my door. I have been oblivious to the alarm, as soon as I take my hearing aid out I can’t hear anything."

These are the words of Newlife Building 1 resident, Stephen Merchant, 60, an alcohol delivery driver, who has lived in the block since it was first built in 2005.

Mark Lowe.

Mark Lowe.

Stephen of Spring Boroughs, told the Chronicle & Echo that on one occasion the fire service attended an incident nearby but he struggled to wake up because he is hard of hearing.

He said: "I woke up once, the fire brigade was here, all the residents were outside and I’m standing on my balcony like the Queen, I was probably the only one left in the building.

"The way I look at it, I'm high enough to jump. I was thinking of anchoring a toe-rope on my balcony, to be honest. If I can hang over my balcony I only have a drop of 15/20ft, I will survive, but I might break a leg or an ankle."

Stephen often looks after his seven-year-old grandson, Charlie at his home.

80 residents were evacuated from the PA Housing tower block in January.

80 residents were evacuated from the PA Housing tower block in January.

But now, the 60-year-old has had two fire alarms installed as well as removing his deep-fat-fryer for safety precautions.

The grandfather's proactive fire safety decisions are as a result of Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service (NFRS) public reassurance work following the Grenfell Tower fire back in June.

Since then, staff have been conducting door-to-door visits to high rise buildings in the county to offer residents free advice on home fire safety.

But despite repeated door knocks, uptake on fire safety checks remain at 60 per cent, which the service wants to improve.

Stephen Merchant.

Stephen Merchant.

Mark Lowe, a firefighter for Redwatch is stationed at The Mounts in Northampton and has worked with Northamptonshire Fire & Rescue Service for seven-and-a-half-years.

He said he has personally checked individual high-rise flats in St Katherines Court and flats in St Andrews Street as well as making regular visits to both Newlife Buildings following the blaze back in flat block 2 earlier this year.

He said: "We are here at the Newlife buildings at Northampton to carry out home fire safety checks. We are doing the high rise buildings in Northampton at the moment, specifically, because of what happened in the summer in London, so this is something that is on people's minds at the moment."

Firstly firefighters make sure residents have all got working smoke detectors fitted.

Then they make checks to the devices and show homeowners how to make sure they're fully functioning.

"Then we will go through specific areas of fire safety advice - which the fire service has always done historically," he adds.

"So that will be doing things such as cooking safety, electrical safety (not overloading sockets), candles as well - anybody who has a naked flame in their house is going to increase the likelihood of them having a fire.

"So we advise people, we don't tell them what to do, but we are guiding them to do the right thing to make sure that they are safe."

On January 10 more than 40 firefighters were called to tackle the flames on the fifth floor of the 11-storey high-rise building in Lower Cross Street.

On the night, up to 80 residents had to be evacuated from the PA Housing tower block. But despite extensive damage, only two people were not able to return to their apartment.

Five flats were damaged on the night and four flats directly above the affected flat were considered to be damaged from the smoke.

But firefighter Mark is still reassuring residents that high-rise flats are safe places to live.

He added: "High rises have [always] been perfectly safe to live in, it’s not that it's any more dangerous but obviously one big incident has highlighted something that wasn’t quite right and that was more to do with building regulations.

"We are giving reassurance to these residents and letting them know that their tower is safe and how to plan for if there is a fire in their flat or if there is a fire in their building, what do they need to do to then exit the building safely."

To request a home fire safety check visit call 0300 126 1000 and select option 5.