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.
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.
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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