Grenfell fire: PM orders public enquiry into incident
Written by Deborah Ritchie
Theresa May has said there is to be a full public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire that claimed the lives of 17 people in West London this week.
The fire in the 24-storey block began in the early hours of Wednesday morning. It took forty fire engines and over 200 firefighters just over 24 hours to tackle the blaze.
The Fire Sector Federation says there are early indications of problems with the fire and smoke alarm volumes; that only one stairwell was available; that fire safety messages told people to stay in their homes, and the ‘rain cladding’ to the exterior of the building was a major contributing factor.
The Emergency Planning Society has called upon the government to act upon recommendations outlined after three previous tower block fires.
"Since 2005, there have been three major fires in tower blocks leading to fatalities," commented chair of the society, Tony Thompson. "In each case, the authorities or the coroner made recommendations that could improve tower block safety. Each time, the government has made assuring noises but never given any indication of action.”
“Our thoughts are with the victims of the Grenfell tragedy and their families. Our members professionals working in the resilience and emergency response sector, including many who will be involved in the response to the Grenfell Block tragedy – will continue in their role, as best they can with increasingly limited resources, to keep our communities safe,” Thompson added. "Last year, the Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said the government would review the Housing Regulations 2010 in wake of the Southwark inquest. Unfortunately, he lost his seat last week, but has been retained as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, so hopefully he can brief the Prime Minister on what progress the government has made on tower block safety.”
The FSF says it has long expressed major concerns about the apparent disjoint in the processes which aim to ensure fire safety within the built environment, as well as concerns about the combustibility of certain modern building materials.
Chair of the Fire Sector Federation Paul Fuller CBE, said the tragedy will be felt throughout the fire sector. “We wish to express our heartfelt condolences to all those affected by this terrible event and pay tribute to the fire service which once again has shown its bravery and professionalism in its response to this incident," he commented. “There is no doubt that there will be questions to answer and the Fire Sector Federation will continue to investigate and campaign for improvements in fire protection and fire safety legislation.”
Tower block fires in the UK (Source: Emergency Planning Society)
There are 4,000 tower blocks in the UK.
Since 2005, there have been three major incidents in which life has been lost in tower block fires:
• 2005: Harrow Court, Stevenage – two firefighters and one member of the public lost their lives. There were calls for ‘retrofitting’ of sprinklers in all tower blocks in the aftermath. It is estimated this would cost £1,200 per flat.
• 2009: Lakanal House, Southwark – six killed. The investigation found that panelling on the exterior walls did not provide fire resistance.
• 2010: Shirley Towers, Southampton – two firefighters killed. Clasps holding up cables were not fire resistant, and the firefighters became entangled in them as they collapsed. In the subsequent inquest, the Coroner called for fire resistant clasps to be introduced and better signage to be employed.