Minneapolis firefighters react to London blaze

Cladding, otherwise referred to as the exterior sandwich panels used in building construction, is attributed with spreading the fire at Grenfell Tower so rapidly on June 14.

Assistant Fire Chief Bryan Tyner of the Minneapolis Fire Department is among the many still in awe over how quickly London’s 24-story apartment building erupted in flames.

“I thought it was a horrific event. I wondered in my mind how it could’ve spread so fast,” he said. “It sounds like the building did have a sprinkler system, but it wasn’t operating properly. That probably would’ve put everything out right in the early stages of the fire and prevented all of this.”

Currently, 79 people are presumed dead, and that number is expected to climb, making it Britain’s deadliest fire in decades. The building material, or its exterior cladding called “raynobond,” is now under scrutiny.

Tyner said he’s not aware of this type of cladding being used around the city of Minneapolis.

The New York Times reports that the use of raynobond at Grenfell complied with British regulations, although the U.S. has placed restrictions on how much of it can be used and has banned its applications on tall buildings on the grounds that it’s a fire hazard.

“I feel pretty safe in these buildings,” Tyner said. “As a matter of fact, they’re probably among the safest buildings here in Minneapolis.”

Per city code any building 75 feet above ground classifies as a high rise, and those are normally built out of non-combustible products. But, flammable material is allowed in high rise construction, with exceptions.

“They must be used in a specific way so as to prevent that type of spread over the outside or through the inside of those buildings,” said City Building Official Patrick Higgins.

Higgins said he’s not familiar enough with Raynobond to know if it’s a part of any Minneapolis structure.

“We really don’t work with specific material types and names or ban and not ban them,” he said.

Higgins insists the Grenfell Tower catastrophe needs to be studied closely.

“It’s very much a concern for the code enforcement group throughout the nation,” he said.

As for whether or not a fire of this magnitude could happen here?

“I would certainly hope not,” Higgins said.

The Minneapolis Fire Department said most fire deaths here happen in single family homes where precautions like a fire, sprinkler and alarm system aren’t in place. Other countries like Australia are taking a lesson from Grenfell Tower, as officials there now plan to strip its buildings of flammable cladding.