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Petition calls for better fire safety in Brussels’ high-rise buildings

15:30 24/08/2023

A petition by Brussels residents is calling for better fire safety measures in the capital’s blocks of high-rise apartment buildings.

The online petition cites a fire that took place in such a block in the Ganshoren area at the end of June, and is addressed to the region’s secretary of state for housing, Nawal Ben Hamou.

“A detailed fire safety audit of large blocks of flats in both the private sector and social housing throughout the region” is needed, according to the petition.

The audit should be mandatory, systematic and repeated regularly, the petition's authors argue.

“What you need to know is that safety depends on the year the property was built, so the older the property, the less safe it is – even if it’s up to standard,” said José Garcia, general secretary of the tenants' union.

“You'd think that if there are new standards, they'd apply to the whole property. But that's not the case. The old standards, insofar as they were respected, remain valid for these buildings. We find this unacceptable.”

By this reasoning, some of the most at-risk buildings are those built before the royal decree of 4 April 1972, which lays down the general conditions for fire protection in high-rise buildings.

These buildings often do not have two separate escape routes, fire doors or a smoke evacuation system, requirements that were established that year.

Further standards related to building materials used and smoke detection systems came in the royal decree of 7 July 1994 and through subsequent amendments.

While any renovation plans must include an opinion from the Brussels fire brigade, that opinion has no binding power.

The tenants’ union is asking for an examination of fire risks, an assessment of the effectiveness of protection systems and proposals for improvements for each large flat block.

The Brussels fire brigade supports these proposals but emphasises the need to prioritise a legal framework for minimum fire prevention regulations, calling for a region-wide study on high rise buildings built before the introduction of the 1972 legislation.

The housing secretary’s office said it would launch such a year-long study in 2024 “in order to obtain a snapshot of the existing situation and make recommendations for improvement”.

Written by Helen Lyons