It wasn’t the firefighters, it was the cladding – Grenfell

Do you ever just read something and think maybe you’ve lost the ability to process and what you’re reading is complete nonsense?

On Tuesday I was a bit out of the loop for most of the day so it didn’t come to my attention until about half four in the afternoon that some of the Grenfell inquiry part one had been leaked ahead of the publishing of it on Wednesday 30th October.  It was under a non-disclosure agreement that was to be in place until 10:00am on Wednesday morning.

I personally don’t like leaks like this.  A date and time was set for its publication which usually allows time for any victims, family members, the bereaved and others involved to read it, digest it and be aware of what the general public will read about.

However, it’s happened and what do we find out? Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his panel have decided that the deaths in Grenfell were the fault of the London Fire Brigade (LFB).  Yes, I had to read it more than once as well.  The entire building was covered in extremely flammable cladding (council approved), literally throwing a lit match at it would have started a blaze, but it’s the fault of London Fire Brigade.

I have never heard anything as stupid.

It took 60 hours and 250 firefighters to end the horrific blaze at Grenfell

I watched the unfolding of the fire on one of the news channels on 14th June 2017.  I’d seen a tweet about a fire in London and turned over the TV.  I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.  The fire was rapidly moving up the building and I remember that the film The Towering Inferno went through my mind.

Over the course of the next couple of hours it was clear that it was a major incident and that, sadly, there would be fatalities.  There were already people on the news saying the couldn’t get in touch with people who lived higher up in the flats.  There were people who couldn’t get in touch with family members, it was a tragedy even early on.  It took less than 30 minutes for the fire to reach the top of Grenfell Tower.  Thirty short minutes.

LFB, rightly, followed the “stay put” strategy.  This is where residents are advised to stay within their properties with windows and doors closed.  This isn’t poor handling of people potentially in danger, this is how fire in high rise flats is dealt with.  When they’re built, high rise flats are supposed to be built compartmentalised.  This means that there should be no need to evacuate an entire high rise for a fire in one flat, for example.  If needed, neighbours of the flat would be evacuated should smoke start to travel.  Since 2014 there have been 5,000 fires in high rise flats in London and “stay put” has been used effectively in almost all of them.  It’s a proven strategy that works.

Sir Martin Moore-Bick and his inquiry team have decided that it was wrong of Dany Cotton and the commanders at the scene to use the “stay-put” position.  Sir Martin, himself, is entirely wrong and LFB used the CORRECT procedure for dealing with the fire.

However, LFB were faced with something that no amount of training can really prepare you for.  No one in modern day Britain expects cladding on a residential building that, incidentally, was renovated in 2016 (when the cladding was added), to be so flammable that the tower was engulfed in 30 minutes. That’s the stuff of nightmares or fiction.

Sir Martin believes that the order to stay put should have been lifted quicker.  It was lifted about an hour after the time he believes it should have been.  The firefighters and commanders on scene had a decision to make.  The fire at Grenfell was asking new questions.  The way it spread.  Flats, therefore stairwells also, were engulfed in smoke and flames from the outside.  Smoke and flames will surprise you, open a door and you could be killed by one of the other.  Yet, Sir Martin appears to think that LFB should have evacuated the building.  This, potentially, meant that there could have been many more casualties because no one knew if the stairwells (which are thin and poorly lit) were full of smoke or not.  Many parts of it were.  Sir Martin thinks that people should have been put in that danger.

Sir Martin has also had a pop at call handlers and junior firefighers.  I really don’t think he’s grasped what happened that night.  Piper Alpha (1988 – 167 dead including two rescuers) was the last major structural fire before Grenfell, and the last major residential fire was during the Second World War.  Everyone attending that fire at Grenfell that night were facing a challenge that they’d only ever really trained for.  They attend fires all the time, but nothing on this scale.  We also know that you can train and train and train but when the real event happens a lot changes.

Grenfell Tower two days after the fire was extinguished

Perhaps Sir Martin might change his mind when the next part of the inquiry takes place next year.  Maybe he’ll understand that the local council, Kensington and Chelsea London Borough Council and Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation, allowed this building to be clad in a very dangerous substance (likely because it was cheaper) and made no provision for it.  They knew the potential danger it could pose and still they chose it therefore putting every single resident of the tower in danger.  Did the LFB pick the cladding? Did they approve it and did they install it? No.  The sad thing is that it’s not against building regulations to install this cladding, so that must change and if Sir Martin doesn’t state that then he’s more foolish than I originally thought.

Next year the part of the inquiry which looks into the broader causes of the fire.  For want of a phrase, this inquiry is completely arse over tit.  That should have been done first, but no.  Pile in and hang the LFB first, deal with the real cause of the 72 deaths later.  Is this to give time for the council and TMO to get their house in order? A sceptical person would say so.  It’s taken two years for the inquiry to blame LFB, how long will it take to condemn the real reason why this tragedy happened?