Fire Brigades Union: After the Grenfell report, here’s what should happen next

As the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry is published, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigade's Union says politicians - not firefighters - are to blame.

The conclusions are clear: warning after warning from previous fires were ignored. Now central government take responsibility for ensuring that the recommendations from the first phase of the inquiry into the Grenfell disaster are applied.

Those changes must be implemented nationwide, not just in London: this has never simply been a matter for the London Fire Brigade. Change can only be achieved by establishing a new, credible and accountable body responsible for fire and rescue service policy in the UK.

Firefighters stand in solidarity with the bereaved, survivors and residents and share their grief for the lives lost that night. They have an absolute right to ask difficult questions.

However, we have said from the start that the order of issues to be investigated has been entirely wrong. The Grenfell Inquiry’s structure prioritises scrutiny of firefighters, who did everything that they could to save lives, over investigating the critical issues of public safety that led to the fire and caused it to spread in such a disastrous manner.

Death trap

Before any firefighter arrived that night, Grenfell Tower was a death trap. Firefighters that night acted bravely in impossible circumstances, many of them repeatedly risking their own lives to save others. We welcome that this is reflected in the Inquiry’s report.

Firefighters and control room staff are, as with any profession, only able to operate within their training and procedures. It is clear that no one had planned or prepared for an incident like Grenfell. The planning by fire service policy makers did not take account of a fire where ‘compartmentation’ failed on such a scale.

Over two years since the fire, there has been no major review or assessment of the ‘Stay Put’ policy. This could have been done within months of the fire and we have raised this with government ministers on numerous occasions. Concerns about stay put policy were raised with central government years before Grenfell, the government must stop dragging its heels and recognise the urgent need to act.

No other option

There was no other evacuation policy but ‘Stay Put’ available to firefighters on the night, something the report rightly recognises. Those on the ground believed that a whole-scale evacuation would have been unsafe, potentially causing further fatalities.

We strongly refute the report’s assertion that it would have been possible or safe to evacuate more than 150 people via a narrow smoke-logged stairwell with just 30 firefighters. There is no evidence to suggest that this was possible. It is particularly alarming that the Inquiry failed on this issue to seek the advice of its own expert adviser on firefighting matters. There is therefore currently no way of knowing if evacuation could have saved more lives.

And sadly the report makes no reference to the vast additional resources needed to implement its recommendations. It’s time for government to provide national leadership, to properly fund and coordinate fire and rescue services and ensure these urgent matters of public safety are addressed.

What’s next

The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community worried for their safety.

We will be watching phase two of the Inquiry closely to ensure they are held to account. But we cannot wait for years for the Inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.

Matt Wrack is General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

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3 Responses to “Fire Brigades Union: After the Grenfell report, here’s what should happen next”

  1. Fire Brigades Union: After the Grenfell report, here’s what should happen next - Politics Highlight - News from the Left and Right

    […] 30 October 2019Politics Highlight As the first phase of the Grenfell inquiry is published, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigade’s Union says politicians – not firefighters – are to blame. Author: Matt Wrack | Source […]

  2. Patrick Newman

    Read all about it. It is all here. A Tory government failing to act on the Lakanal House (Southwark) fire coroner’s recommendations on flammable cladding, a Tory council indifferent and ignoring the complaints of residents. A council that prized cost-cutting over safety, poorly supervised contractors that exploited the unclear or no regulations, the Prime Minister when Mayor of London inflicting cuts on the London Fire Brigade, a Chancellor of the Exchequer who as SoS for housing did nothing but said “whatever it takes”, Cameron and his bonfire of regulations (so-called red tape) which led to a bonfire of 72 persons, surviving residents many of whom still awaiting permanent rehousing, an underpersonned ill-equipped fire service that this uniquely virulent and aggressive fire broke down most of its crisis management protocols normally in place. What does the media focus on – a stupid remark of the Commissioner who seems to be complicit in taking on the scapegoat role! See Lord Porter’s (LGA) remarks “However, the inquiry has made a fundamental error by examining the response to the fire before examining its causes. The consequence of this is to scapegoat the fire service while those responsible for the fire have yet to be exposed or held to account.”

  3. Alasdair Macdonald

    By the leaking of part of the report the night before the initial publication, the media, with the BBC and Channel Four in the van have emphasised the ‘Firemen to blame’ angle and, this continues even after the report has been published.

    This was a relatively ‘normal’ domestic fire which the flat resident dealt with in the correct and level-headed way, and LFB arrived fairly promptly.

    However, because of the inadequate maintenance and the shoddy cladding, the compartmentalised design of the flats was compromised and the fire was able to ‘escape’ via poor quality windows and ignite the inflammable cladding which spread the fire with rapidity up and down the building and was able to penetrate other flats via inadequate windows.

    This fire was caused by GREED – the inhuman desire to maximise returns for shareholders at the expense of the safety of many people.

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