Grenfell Fire and Responsibilities

If the BBC is to be believed then today will see the publication of a first report on the Grenfell fire which is highly critical of the London Fire Service.

Of course the Fire Service made errors – who wouldn’t in such an unforseen emergency situation?

However, to criticise the Fire Service is a little premature (though, I’m afraid they’re an easy target – they ‘lost’ the fatalities).

I agree with Matt Wrack here on ‘R4 Today’.

Effectively the Fire Service is first in line to rescue – come what may.

Theirs is not ever to consider any rational responsibilty. If it were they would be unlikely to turn out at all.

Their highly criticised lack of ‘control’ is I suggest, inherent in any emergency. And this in an emergency that was not supposed to happen – because cladding was not supposed to be flammable. That would be entirely outside their mindset. Which bright spark (as it were) suggested that it was okay?

That’s why the London Fire Service suggested that people should remain in their homes – they had long been briefed by the government that the buildings were robust enough to withstand local fire. Which is also why the Fire Service had no high platforms – who needed them when the building regulations had, for years, ‘confined’ the fire.

If the BBC leaks are correct then today’s report will pummel the Fire Service, without actually taking account of (neoliberal) government over the last twenty years or more.

The Fire Service has had its resouces reduced – and the idea is still ongoing widely – but seems itself to be held responsible for that same government imposed lack of resources…

That is pretty much, for me, a definition of neoliberalism!

We’ve really arrived when self- blamimg is what some public servants feel obliged to justify.

Nonetheless, I suggest we should really expect much more incisiveness from a judge – even a retired one.


  1. Andrew -

    Well, the starting point for this piece of the inquiry is that building controls failed (no doubt due to political failures), and a fire had broken out, so focussing on the reaction of the Fire Service to that emergency. Yes, their resources were plainly inadequate (and the blame for that *also* rests with local and national politicians) but (not having read the report, but from what I understand) it seems to me that it would be fair to say that there was insufficient flexibility in the response of incident commander, to realise that this was not a “normal” fire and that the staying in place policy was not working, so they needed to shift to evacuation earlier. It is tragic that so many people were repeatedly told to stay where they were, with fatal consequences, and those that ignored the official advice survived.

    It is doubly tragic that a fundamentally safe building was rendered unsafe by adding cheap cladding.

    Unfortunately disasters like this tend to happen when there is a ricocheting series of unfortunate events or bad decisions, not just one bad decision, and really we must find out what went wrong and learn the lessons bought at such cost – not just say it, but actually change what we do – even if it means allocating some measure of responsibility to the leadership of the Fire Service. (I wonder who leaked the report to the press before it was published – someone trying to get their defence in first, perhaps…)

    It is just shocking that the Fire Brigade Commissioner is reported as saying they would respond in exactly the same way if happened again, as if nothing went wrong.

    1. Peter May -

      Agreed the response of she wouldn’t change anything is a hostage to fortune.
      Still my understanding is there used to be a requirement for a hydraulic platform to attend every high-rise fire. That might well have been been able to stop the fire spreading at least so far and so fast.
      The requirement was abolished when the London Mayor, a certain B Johnson, cut back fire service personnel and stations

  2. Bill Hughes -

    This latest Grenfell Tower report is certainly a whitewash laying blame on the fire service who risked their lives and diverting attention away from the real culprits – Conservative Kensingnton and Chelsea Council who authorised the so called renovations using unsafe cladding and not even installing sprinklers, fire alarms etc. The buck stops with them and for central govenrment cutting down on health and safety provision and ignoring existing regulations. The lessons of the Latimer fire of 2009 and another in Bermondsey were completely ignored.

  3. Graham -

    I believe there is to be a 2nd part to this enquiry looking at some of the issues raised above re culpability of politicians. Or am I mistaken?

    1. Peter May -

      No you are not.
      But why on earth was the fire service investigated before the politicians?
      We now understand that the judge thought people should be evacuated at the same time that firefighters were using the same and only staircase with hoses and personnel!
      And the judge has admitted this was without any expert advice!
      I suggest that the (abolished) callout response of one hydraulic platform to every high rise fire is far more important.

  4. Graham -

    The advice to stay put also cost thousands of lives in the Twin Towers terrorist attack. In fact I believe some were told to return to their offices. The Security guy at Morgan Stanley, who had feared just such an attack, had been conducting evacuation drills and on the day led many to safety, although he died as he went back in to rescue more.

    I wonder if it’s appropriate that a single judge (or person) should conduct these enquiries. Others might have challenged his absurd opinion on evacuation.

    I agree, the main and first enquiry should have been to examine the culpability of those who made decisions on building regs, cutting the funding to the Fire Service (yes, you Boris) and how inflammable cladding was given the go ahead. As with the bankers, those at the top sitting comfortably behind desks get away with it whereas some overworked, underprepared people on the front line risking their lives in doing their best to save others get it in the neck. Makes you sick.

  5. Andrew (Andy) Crow -

    The fire service was not responsible for starting the fire, merely for failing to put it out.

    Margaret Thatcher and her cohorts of benighted economically illiterate deregulators since, (both main parties) were responsible for creating the tinderbox.

  6. Peter May -

    Agreed but the Conservative and LibCon govts were responsible for ignoring the coroner’s reccomendations after a remarkably similar smaller fire in South London.

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