One of the best parts of my job is having the opportunity to connect with different fire protection and life safety professionals from all over the world.
Last month, I was fortunate enough to attend NFPA’s Women in Engineering event at the SFPE Conference in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. There, I met a remarkable young student architect named Nasrin Sadat who shared the powerful reason behind her college thesis on high-rise residential tower fire safety. Her story will stick with me forever.
Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing on the morning of September 11th, 2001, but do you remember where you were on June 14, 2017 when the Grenfell Tower in West London burned, killing 72 people? Nasrin remembers the events of that horrible day all too well, and shared her and her fiancé’s life-changing experience with me.
But first a little about Nasrin. She lives with her parents and younger brother in a small town in The Netherlands, and is studying architecture at The Hague University. Born in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, Nasrin and her family fled her troubled homeland in the early 2000s to escape escalating occupation by the Taliban.
The Sadat family had relatives in The Netherlands so they headed there as refugees. They began their new life as a family grounded in strong values and committed to preserving their reputable heritage.
Last year on June 14th, Nasrin was sleeping soundly at home, when fire began to consume the Grenfell Towers hundreds of miles away in West London. The college student’s phone began to vibrate and ring incessantly. Her fiancé Farhad Neda was desperately trying to reach her from the 23rd floor of the Grenfell Tower, where he lived with his disabled mother, Flora and his father, Saber.
Initially, Farhad wanted Nasrin to know that the building was on fire. But, as the fire quickly spread and smoke relentlessly billowed into their flat, Nasrin’s fiancé didn’t think they were going to make it out of the building alive. He was calling and texting Nasrin to say goodbye.
Farhad’s mother suffers from a muscular disease and is unable to walk on her own so walking down 23 flights of stairs was going to be difficult, if not impossible. Throughout the ordeal, Farhad was in contact with a friend who was outside the building near first responders. He asked the friend to talk with the first responders and let him know what to do. The 24-year old was told to stay put because help was on the way and if the fire brigade could not reach the Nedas, they could go to the roof where helicopters would be rescuing residents.
Anxious about the smoke in their apartment, and with no sign of first responders or helicopters, Farhad decided they needed to escape via the stairs. He left the apartment with his mother, while his father stayed behind to help others. Farhad’s dad promised to follow them soon and meet them outside.
During their descent dark smoke filled the stairwell, making it difficult to escape. They were choking and stumbling over the bodies of those overcome by smoke. It took them about 20 minutes to descend 23 flights of stairs – stopping once along the way to suck in clean air via an air pocket.
Once outside, Farhad spoke to Nasir and recounted everything that was unfolding at Grenfell. She boarded the first available flight to London.
Farhad and his mother were put into induced comas to recover from all the smoke that they inhaled during their quest for survival. Nasrin spent months in London helping her fiancé and his mother recover.
Farhad and Flora were the only survivors from floor 23. Saber, Farhad’s dad, never met them outside.
As a student of architecture, Nasrin is well-versed on building design, construction techniques and code regulations. She knew that the events that took place at Grenfell Tower on June 14th, should never have occurred. When she returned to school in September she decided to do her senior thesis on high-rise residential tower fire safety with Grenfell Tower as the basis of her research. Her work is centered around 5 main questions:
· How can the escape concept ''stay put'' in residential towers work properly?
· How can the applied materials used in the Grenfell Tower facade be used safely for residential towers?
· How can the staircases in high-rise buildings contribute to the fire safety of residential towers?
· How can the smoke control system in residential towers work properly?
· How can quality assessment strategies employed during the construction process guarantee that the fire safety of residential towers will be adequate?
Nasrin’s final paper will result in an assessment of the fire safety measures at Grenfell Tower; and provide a comparison of the fire and life safety regulations applied in Dutch high-rise buildings.
The research being undertaken by Nasrin is not simple, but in the course of our brief meeting I came away with the sense that this young women is up for any challenge. She has the support of her mentor and manager at her internship at DGMR Engineering in The Netherlands - and of course, encouragement from her fiancé and his mother.
I was awed by this young women’s spirit and intelligence, and saddened by the tragedy that spurred her thesis decision. And yet, I was very proud to share with her the many ways that NFPA is also addressing high-rise building fire and life safety with risk assessment tools, videos, resources and via NFPA 285 and NFPA 5000. We share Nasrin’s passion for keeping residents of high-rise buildings safer from harm.
I look forward to reading and sharing Nasrin’s report in June when it is complete. In the meantime, learn more about Farhad and Flora’s unforgettable journey on June 14th and in the days since, as reported during this compelling news interview.