Chief FRS inspector criticises cladding progress

Chief FRS inspector criticises cladding progress

SIR THOMAS Winsor, chief fire and rescue inspector for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) was ‘alarmed’ at the number of combustibly clad buildings.

In July 2017, HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) was announced to be taking on inspection of English FRSs, with the Home Office stating at the time that this would help support the government’s fire reform programme, and be renamed HMICFRS to ‘help support the continuous improvement of this critical public service and support fire and rescue authorities to become even more effective’.

Sir Thomas Winsor was appointed as chief fire and rescue inspector, with its first taking place in spring 2018, and every authority inspected by the end of 2019. It has now released its first annual assessment, with Sir Thomas acknowledging the ‘strong commitment’ from firefighters to protect communities, and stating that FRS’ ‘greatest strength’ is in responding to emergencies, but the sector ‘needs significant reform in several areas’.

ITV News reported on Sir Thomas’ concerns about buildings still clad in combustible material, noting that he ‘urged’ building owners to remove it ‘to help firefighters avoid having to tackle another severe fire’. He added that it was ‘alarming’ that there are still over 300 buildings clad in aluminium composite material, and ‘remedial work to remove similar cladding systems, including rainscreens with polyethylene cores, should be done by the building owners as quickly as possible.

‘No other fire service should have to tackle a blaze of such severity because of these unsafe materials’. He noted that firefighters who attended Grenfell had done so with ‘determination, dedication, courage and commitment’, and ‘faced a fire of unprecedented severity due to failures in building regulations over the last 20 years. They were also let down by failings in planning and preparation, incident command, communication, and working with other emergency services’.

He noted that HMICFRS had ‘carefully considered’ the findings of the first phase report from the inquiry, and would include them in approaching inspections ‘where appropriate’, while the inquiry;s findings about London Fire Brigade ‘affect every service’. Dame Judith Hackitt’s review of building regulations and fire safety meanwhile should help bring ‘fundamental changes’ to regulations, of which FRSs ‘are only a small part’.

The annual report on FRSs also found that services ‘were not doing enough to ensure buildings were complying’ with fire safety regulations, with inspector Zoe Billingham stating that this was due to a ‘panoply’ of reasons such as differences in identifying high risk premises as well as arrangements for staff undertaking audits.

She noted that post Grenfell every English FRS conducted high rise building inspections, with HMICFRS finding these issues in its service audits undertaken between June 2018 and August 2019. Ms Billingham also pointed out that there was a ‘longer-term issue for [FRSs] around protection’, in terms of ensuring high risk premises are found, audited appropriately and with enough trained staff to undertake audits.