FBU calls for change in Grenfell inquiry statement
AT THE conclusion of the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry’s first phase, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) discussed future changes to be made to help prevent a similar tragedy.
Earlier this year, the inquiry began looking at the ‘factual narrative’ of the events, with expert witnesses describing the various safety failures in the tower and a ‘culture of non compliance’. After the inquiry resumed once more, a fire station manager stated that ‘vital’ plans for the tower were not able to be found in the lobby of the building. It then heard from 999 operators that due to a policy not to recontact callers, residents were not told to evacuate when policy changed.
In September, one of the fire commanders stated that ‘the building let us all down’, before London Fire Brigade (LFB) commissioner Dany Cotton admitted that she had no knowledge of cladding risks despite an LFB presentation created only a year before the fire. Recently, the inquiry heard two different experts note that flames spread in ‘just over 10 minutes’ to the outside of the tower, and that cladding issues ‘have been known for decades’.
In November, the inquiry heard that the architectural ‘crown’ of cladding designed to make the tower ‘look nice’ was ‘instrumental’ in the fire’s spread around the tower, and that the fire was ‘most likely started by overheated wiring’ within a fridge freezer. Yesterday, the inquiry heard that LFB had ‘failed residents and firefighters’, and that a post Grenfell audit of the building’s management company found only ‘minor weaknesses’ in its approach.
The FBU’s closing statement called for a review of fire service procedures and training, as well as planning for all high rise residents to be rescued or evacuated ‘in the event’ that stay put becomes ‘unworkable’. It also highlighted that ‘significant’ research and ‘large scale’ exercises should be undertaken to ‘test and revise’ evacuation procedures, and building owners and landlords should hep residents understand evacuation strategies and ‘rigorously assess’ building safety.
In turn, fire and rescue services ‘must be given’ resources and funding to ensure familiarisation visits to high rise residential buildings for necessary training, and the FBU also called for an ‘overhaul’ of procedures and training to include identifying ‘serious breaches’ of compartmentation as well as the viability of stay put once a fire has spread – or there is a real risk it might spread to – other areas.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, stated: ‘Before the fire started and any firefighter arrived, Grenfell had been stripped of all its basic fire safety measures, yet we have not even started to examine how that was allowed to happen. We have said from the beginning that it is ill-judged that the inquiry started by looking at the night of the fire, rather than the decisions which led up to it.
‘Everyone will now reflect on what has been learned since that night. We can be certain that firefighters deliberately put their own safety at risk time and time again, in order to save lives. We are horrified that so many died and, like the bereaved and the local community, we want to see major change to provide justice and ensure this cannot happen again.’
He added: ‘The building failure of Grenfell lies at the heart of all the major problems faced by firefighters on the night. The terrible fire at Grenfell was not planned for because it was not meant to happen. Without advance planning, and the training to embed it, firefighters and control staff were placed in an utterly impossible position.
‘This is clearly not just a London issue – central government must finally face up to its responsibilities on fire policy. We are calling for a national review and for national planning for evacuation in some circumstances. Such planning could then be applied locally, for every high rise residential building across the UK. This is no easy task, but if we are to truly make changes after Grenfell, we must work towards this goal.
‘We must make our buildings safer. It is utterly disgraceful that in the 21st century, we are allowing people to live in unsafe environments. It is the government’s responsibility to provide a system which ensures homes are safe, a responsibility that they have failed in.’
Also at the inquiry yesterday, Arconic - which manufactured the cladding used on the tower - gave a 'combative' statement saying that other materials were to blame for the fire's spread, and the inquiry's second phase was revealed to potentially not be beginning until the end of next year.