FBU Barrister Martin Seaward

Follow Grenfell investigation right to the top, firefighters say

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry must look at the decades of deregulation that allowed fire safety at Grenfell to be undermined, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said today in its opening submission to phase 2 of the inquiry.

The union outlined three factors that rendered the UK’s regulatory regime as “unfit for purpose”, “facilitating the hazardous refurbishment” of Grenfell Tower and impeding the London Fire Brigade’s ability to respond effectively to the fire:

  1. The fragmentation of the UK’s fire and rescue service after the abolition of national standards of fire cover and the Central Fire Brigades Advisory Council, the former fire oversight body
  2. Cuts to the London Fire Brigade from 2008 to 2017, including the loss of ten fire stations and more than 1,300 firefighters and control staff
  3. The deregulation of building control and fire safety and the privatisation of the Building Research Establishment

These areas should be covered by phase 2 of the inquiry, the FBU says, as well as the levels of funding, equipment, and staffing in building control and social housing.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:

“The fire at Grenfell Tower never should have happened the way it did. Firefighters were sent to what should have been a fire in a single flat but were plunged into an impossible situation. Every building safety measure failed that night – and the Inquiry needs to find out who is responsible.

“The opening days of phase two have begun to expose how those involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower and the manufacturing of its cladding were driven solely by profit, at the expense of residents’ safety. Now they’re trying to duck the consequences, asking the chair to help them evade prosecution.

“A drive towards deregulation and privatisation across housing, construction, and public services from consecutive governments is what allowed this to happen. The inquiry must follow the line of investigation right to the top – to the ministers and executives who chose to put profit before people."

Those involved in Grenfell’s refurbishment must be questioned on why they wrapped the building in flammable cladding and why the London Fire Brigade was not notified of any deterioration in the building’s fire safety, the FBU said.

Grenfell Tower’s design was dependent on compartmentation, the firefighting and construction principle that flats are built as fire-resistant compartments. But the building’s 2016 refurbishment “destroyed” the compartmentation built-in when first constructed in 1974.

Grenfell had a single narrow means of escape; limited smoke ventilation; no sprinklers, alarm or communications system; and a stay-put evacuation strategy; all of which are dependent on compartmentation. The submission notes that these remained in place after the refurbishment undermined compartmentation.

In its oral opening to the inquiry, the FBU invited the chair to appoint an environmental health practitioner to replace panellist Benita Mehra, who stood down on Saturday.

The union noted that the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s (RBKC) apparent lack of building control oversight is a national issue, not unique to RBKC, and backed the Mayor of London’s call for urgent interim recommendations at the end of each module of the Inquiry. It called for an end to the culture of minimum compliance in construction.

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