The facts and figures revealed in the Grenfell Tower inquiry and other investigations, continue to alarm. A primary finding of the inquiry’s first report in 2019 was that the external cladding surrounding Grenfell Tower caused the fire to spread swiftly.

In the wake of the fire, more than 400 other high rise buildings surveyed around the nation have been discovered to possess exterior wall materials similar to those utilised on Grenfell Tower. Some more recent tower block fires also uncovered severe fire hazards in high-rise buildings.

The Grenfell inquiry’s recommendations have emphasised fire-safety legislation, the readiness and operational challenges of emergency services and on how everyone – from developers to the London Fire Brigade (LFB) – must maintain an improved understanding of how high rises are constructed and the challenges they present.

Much work still needs to be done in terms of assessing standing buildings, and guaranteeing their occupants’ safety. This will call for a joint-up strategy on behalf of the government, fire services, builders and manufacturers to guarantee fire safety in high-rise buildings.

Much has been written about the way that the Grenfell tragedy demonstrated that lessons from the Lakanal House, which claimed six lives in a south London tower block eight years earlier, were not acknowledged. The Fire and Rescue Service, and its fire-risk assessments especially, were displayed as inadequate.

To prevent this from reoccuring, the state has invested £1.6 billion toward coping with unsafe cladding systems on residential structures of 18 metres and over. Before COVID struck, the government pledged to inspect and review all high-rise buildings in England by year’s end. It is not evident as to how COVID has hindered that process.

The government is facilitating research into evacuation plans in blocks of flats. This comes in the wake of Moore-Bick’s summons for an end to the “stay put” directive which proved so dire for the occupants of Grenfell Tower.

New fire safety codes have been passed are a welcome development, but they will require investments and experience in fire services to conduct extra inspections and reviews.

The inquiry critiqued the government’s Fire and Rescue Service for not comprehending the combustibility of external cladding. It emphasised the absence of a regulatory framework to share and store data about fire-safety features. It also carried a warning regarding the absence of a national evacuation plan for high-rise buildings.

In response, the government has taken quick action. In February it designated Peter Baker as the UK’s inaugural chief inspector of buildings, to operate a new national regulator of building safety. As outlined in the draft Building Safety Bill 2020, Baker is tasked, especially, with appointing an “accountable person” for each high rise in England. Their responsibility will be to listen and respond to residents’ worries, allowing access to important safety data to residents and leaseholders.

Furthermore, the newly enacted Fire Safety Act 2021 enhances prior legislation, by rendering the owners of high rises and other residential blocks responsible for managing the fire danger of specific key elements. This encompasses the structure and the exterior walls of the building, including cladding, balconies and windows, and entry doors to single flats that open into communal areas.

The LFB still has a great deal of crucial work to complete. The inquiry critiqued the concept that the otherwise seasoned incident commanders and senior officers at the scene had gotten no training in the specific dangers affiliated with combustible cladding. It also critiqued the brigade’s evacuation plans, and lack of contingency strategies.

The Mayor of London’s monthly progress reports do show that progress has taken place. Particularly, policy pertaining to the training of emergency responders will distinguish between callers seeking advice and those who must be rescued, and on communications between incident commanders and the control room has been revised.

Yet, the recent independent assessment, conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, conveyed worries that only a few of the inquiry’s recommendations were truly finished. It highlighted staff shortages prompting delays.

The inquiry discovered that different emergency responders (the LFB, the Metropolitan Police and the London Ambulance Service) did not work together in an efficient manner. And little has changed in the interim.

Critically, each declared a major incident independently, and without telling the others. This meant that the requirement for a properly coordinated response was not heeded in time.

The report stressed the great need for clear methods of communication – and compatible tech – between the control rooms of single services. It specified as to how communication between the emergency services on the night of the fire, both remotely and on the incident ground itself, did not adhere to the standards needed because of standing fire safety protocols. The communication link with the police helicopter overhead did not function, which also influenced LFB operations.

It stated that a solitary point of contact in every control room and direct communication between control room supervisors should have been set. A review is in progress to address those recommendations.

In summary, for our structures to be safer and those of us who reside in them to feel safe, much needs to be done. Stripping unsafe cladding and installing fire safety features in aged buildings is a painfully slow process.

Who will pay for this work is not quite certain. Leaseholders and residents may end up with the bill. Leaseholders of that east London tower that caught fire in May are held responsible for £3.1m of the £11.6m cost to repair their building complex.

Critics blame politicians for not blaming developers—whatever the case, we must do right by the residents on Grenfell.


Source: The Conversation.Com