Since the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, London Fire Brigade has been leading the call for ministers to step up and implement key changes to building regulations to prevent future disasters.
This includes reviewing fire safety in residential buildings and calling for Government changes to building regulations, including a complete ban of combustible cladding and a change for sprinklers to be fitted in a much wider range of buildings, such as purpose-built blocks of flats.
A fundamental issue since the tragedy at Grenfell has been the ‘stay put’ strategy, used to inform the operational tactics of fire and rescue services across the UK in buildings where it is assumed the design and construction will stop fire spreading. Buildings designed to have a ‘stay put’ strategy, which included Grenfell Tower, are not designed and built to facilitate mass emergency evacuation during a fire – many, for example, have a narrow staircase and no common alarm system. New research is now needed into what the public and firefighters should do when a building fails.
Since the Grenfell Tower fire, London Fire Brigade has taken steps to provide guidance for its firefighters in the event of a building’s fire safety measures failing, which includes putting in place interim advice for incident commanders to assist an emergency evacuation or mass rescue operation in the event of rapid or abnormal fire spread. However, there are considerable challenges in any change from the stay put strategy, which is why the brigade are calling for urgent research.
Details of how lessons are being learnt and all the actions taken by the brigade are contained in a progress report published on 16 October and discussed by the London Assembly’s Fire, Resilience and Emergency Planning committee.
Internal learning and improvement – The brigade established the dedicated Grenfell Tower Investigation and Review Team (GTIRT), led by Assistant Commissioner Andy Bell, which is undertaking comprehensive evaluation to identify further lessons to be learnt and to ensure they are implemented.
Pre-Determined Attendance – The standard response to a high-rise fire was changed in 2017 to five fire engines and an aerial appliance following the fire. Where the brigade receives multiple calls and cladding fire has been reported, this increases to 10 fire engines and an aerial appliance.
New fire fighting equipment – New fire escape hoods are being used to protect residents from toxic smoke, drones to provide an aerial view of incidents, new extended height aerial appliances with turntable ladders of up to 64m, and Urban Search and Rescue WASP devices (Warning Alarm for Stability Protection) for structural monitoring of buildings.
Training – Incident command training has been enhanced, with all officers requiring Level 1 and Level 2 incident command training by the end of 2019/20. There will also be incident command revalidation courses, which must be undertaken every two years.
Control improvements – The brigade has restructured the management of its 999 control room and Control staff have undertaken Fire Survival Guidance refresher training.
Information gathering – London Fire Brigade is overhauling the way it gathers, records and shares operational risk information across the brigade. This work has included firefighters ensuring that electronic information plates are available for more than 2300 high rise premises and the brigade’s Fire Safety Inspecting Officers conducting 1238 visits to buildings with identified risks.
London Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton said, “I want the public and especially the Grenfell Tower community to know everything we are doing to learn from that night and to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.
“It was the single largest residential building fire London Fire Brigade has ever fought and the building should have protected the people that lived there in the way it was supposed to.
“That is not what happened and we will always remember the 72 lives lost and the bereaved, the survivors and the impact it continues to have on the local community.
“Fire spread the entire height of Grenfell Tower in less than 30 minutes. Residents and firefighters were placed in impossible conditions we had never experienced before. That is why I am calling for the Government to reverse more than 20 years of neglect in relation to fire safety and to undertake urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’, which means ‘stay put’ advice is no longer viable in those buildings.
“Since 2014, there have been more than 5000 high rise fires in London alone and in the vast majority of these incidents ‘stay put’ advice has been effective. It’s very important for people to know that.
“It is completely understandable that stay put advice has been questioned, but we are talking about buildings that fail, rather than advice that fails and there is no clear alternative, which is why this research is needed.”