Grenfell cladding company testifies at inquiry
ARCONIC MANUFACTURED the aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding used on the tower, and claimed that the fire ‘could have been put out with [a] simple extinguisher’.
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 Guardian reported on Arconic’s testimony, which saw the company claim that ‘other materials were responsible’ for the fire’s spread, and that it could have been put out ‘with a handheld fire extinguisher’. The company’s ‘combative’ closing statement claimed that ‘it was possible no one would have died if other aspects of the refurbishment had been different’, with its counsel Stephen Hockman stating it was ‘impossible to argue that ACM PE was non-compliant’ with building regulations.
He added that the performance of the uPVC windows, insulation and ‘decorative’ cladding panels on and near the flat where the fire started ‘were effectively responsible for spreading the fire’, Arconic arguing that the fire was ‘not the result’ of its panels, but the combination of materials from the 2016 refurbishment. It singled out the window frames, Mr Hockman stating: ‘If the refurbishment of the interior window surrounds and the external envelope of the building had been carried out in a different way, it would have been possible for the firefighters to extinguish the fire in flat 16 before the fire even reached the cladding system.’
In reference to the resident in the flat where the fire started, he claimed that a ‘simple fire extinguisher in his hands would have made a big difference to the outcome. The external spread of flame was substantially exacerbated by combining ACM PE with combustible PIR [polyisocyanurate] insulation without any horizontal or vertical bands of non-combustible material to limit spread. The PIR insulation ensured the fire would spread to new portions of the building’.
As a result, this meant ‘not only did the fire exit from the flat much more quickly than anyone would have expected, but it contributed to an increase in temp within the cladding system cavity’, and if the insulation foam had been non combustible, LFB might have been able to put it out’. He also argued that if internal features had been different, such as fire doors, the ventilation system and if sprinklers had been fitted, ‘then the fire would have penetrated the building much less rapidly and thus all or at least much of the tragic loss of life would have been spared’.
Mr Hockman added: ‘The tragedy at Grenfell Tower shows the awful consequences which can arise when combustible materials are used in a particular combination. However, that does not show that the use of ACM panels in itself would have given rise to a risk to health and safety.’
Also at the inquiry yesterday, the Fire Brigades Union gave a closing statement with its hopes for future change, and the inquiry's second phase was revealed to potentially not be beginning until the end of next year.