Firefighters call for review of evacuation procedures for high rise residential buildings

The Fire Brigades Union gave its closing statement for phase one of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry today, Wednesday 12 December. In a series of recommendations, the union has called for a review of fire service procedures and training, to plan for residents of all high rise buildings to be rescued or evacuated, in the event that ‘stay put’ becomes unworkable.

Matt Wrack, general secretary, said: “Before the fire started and any firefighter arrived, Grenfell had been stripped of all its basic fire safety measures, yet we have not even started to examine how that was allowed to happen. We have said from the beginning that it is ill-judged that the inquiry started by looking at the night of the fire, rather than the decisions which led up to it.

“Everyone will now reflect on what has been learned since that night. We can be certain that firefighters deliberately put their own safety at risk time and time again, in order to save lives. We are horrified that so many died and, like the bereaved and the local community, we want to see major change to provide justice and ensure this cannot happen again.”

The union highlights that significant research, and large scale exercises, should be undertaken to test and revise evacuation procedures. Building owners or landlords should help residents to understand the evacuation strategy and work with local agencies to rigorously assess the safety of high rise residential buildings. Fire and rescue services must be given the necessary resources and funding to ensure that local firefighters can make familiarisation visits to high rise residential buildings and undertake the necessary training. The union has called for an overhaul of procedures and training for firefighters, to include how to identify serious breaches of compartmentation and the viability of ‘stay put’ when a fire has spread to multiple areas or there is a real risk that it will do so.

Matt Wrack said: “The building failure of Grenfell lies at the heart of all the major problems faced by firefighters on the night. The terrible fire at Grenfell was not planned for because it was not meant to happen. Without advance planning, and the training to embed it, firefighters and control staff were placed in an utterly impossible position.

“This is clearly not just a London issue – central government must finally face up to its responsibilities on fire policy. We are calling for a national review and for national planning for evacuation in some circumstances. Such planning could then be applied locally, for every high rise residential building across the UK. This is no easy task, but if we are to truly make changes after Grenfell, we must work towards this goal.

“We must make our buildings safer. It is utterly disgraceful that in the 21st century, we are allowing people to live in unsafe environments. It is the government’s responsibility to provide a system which ensures homes are safe, a responsibility that they have failed in.”

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