Grenfell Phase One, no evacuation plan
© John Gomez

Here, we discuss the Grenfell Phase One report published today (30 October), which found that there was no evacuation plan for the high-rise

It has been over two years since the 14th June, 2017.

Individuals who lost their homes have continuously campaigned for greater housing rights and protections from companies, whilst high-profile artists like Stormzy have levelled questions about the treatment of survivors to politicians like Theresa May.

Here, we have dissected some of the key recommendations for you.

What are some of the key recommendations?

1. ACM cladding needs changing in all residential buildings

The Chairman writing the report, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, said:

“It is unnecessary for me to recommend that panels with polyethylene cores on the exterior of high-rise buildings be removed as soon as possible and replaced with materials of limited combustibility because it is accepted that that must be done.”

He suggested that Aluminum Composite Material (ACM) cladding changes in residential buildings throughout the UK should be “pursued as vigorously as possible,” as there are over 100 buildings in this country which remain as easily flammable. The ‘architectural crown’ of Grenfell tower was one feature described by the Chairman that was flammable, which issued a warning about creative pieces of architecture being flammable.

Two years after the Grenfell fire, the Government promised £200 million towards residential buildings around the UK, to aid them in changing their cladding. This figure was considered to be too little by construction experts, as the re-cladding of one high-rise in Manchester cost around £5 million in itself.

2. Evacuation plans need to exist for high-rises

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) have recently been named by Boris Johnson as the key reason for the Grenfell fire, which led to a backlash on social media.

The Chairman pointed out that some of the senior officers in the LFB understood how cladding fires in high-rise buildings worked, younger officers were unaware of the type of fire they faced. The inquiry suggests that this lack of knowledge led to a slower, less cohesive response from the LFB.

There was also a ‘stay-put’ strategy initially used, which told residents to simply stay where they were until the LFB handled the situation. This kind of stasis has been massively critiqued by experts, who suggest that staying still would have created more destruction on human life.

He said:

“None of them seem to have been able to conceive of the possibility of a general failure of compartmentation or of a need for mass evacuation; they neither truly seized control of the situation nor were able to change strategy.”

There was no available information on who in the building lacked mobility and individuals who were most vulnerable, leading to a lack of understanding for emergency services on how to proceed. The Chairman recommends that all high-rises legally have to create an evacuation plan, especially personal emergency evacuation plans (PEEPs) for individuals who would struggle to leave by themselves.

He further commented:

“The LFB was unaware of the combustible nature of the materials used in the cladding of Grenfell Tower and was therefore not in a position to formulate a contingency plan for a fire of this kind.

“There were no plans in place for evacuating Grenfell Tower should the need arise.”

3. Communication between firefighters needs to be clearer

The deployment of firefighters and use of resources has been highlighted in the public eye.
Whilst the firefighters were deployed with instructions, the inquiry found that they went into the smouldering building and acted “on their own initiative”: the officers frequently ran into people needing help and chose to help that person, an act which seems more crucial in the moment.

The need to continue on their given mission is a moral dilemma – should the emergency team have ignored people in their path and continued onto their given instructions? Should there have been a different emergency team to do that, whilst the firefighters continued to their instructions?

The Chairman didn’t directly suggest what to do in this situation, but emphasises “better control of deployments”, who can access information that is coming in as soon as possible. Communication to the public was also an issue, as many people couldn’t find out where their loved ones where. The inquiry suggests this information needs to be available as soon as possible, and is the responsibility of the emergency services as a whole.

In the Grenfell Phase One report he recommends a policy change in the LFB, which would mean that they train to extract information from returning officers in a better way, to be available to the incident commander immediately.

4. Fire extinguishers in the flat are not needed

No-one in Grenfell tower was supplied with individual fire extinguishers or fire blankets for their kitchens.

The Chairman says “there is much to be said in favour” of householders getting their own equipment – fire blankets, extinguishers and buckets of sand – if they don’t have any. But there is a recognition from the inquiry that no individual should be “encouraged to fight fires themselves but should leave the building as quickly as possible”, as the professionals are best equipped to safely handle fires.

Here, the inquiry believes that having fire extinguishers isn’t necessary for high-rises, citing the “potential for misuse” as an issue with no direct recommendation to owners to provide them.

There is a lot of who did what questions and future policy decisions that remain undiscussed. The inquiry promises to address these in their next report, known as Phase Two.

What will happen in Phase Two?

1. The decision-making process behind the installation of the “highly-combustible” cladding system.

2. The testing system for materials – is it vigorous enough in reality as it seems to be on paper?

3. Active communication between the control room and the firefighters on the ground to track developments of a fire, which were required by law but weren’t seen through properly.

4. The need to understand the risks of cladding fires in high-rises, on behalf of the emergency services.

5. How the local community has been warning the residential owners for years, and nothing was done in response to this.

6. The smoke extraction system was not working – Phase Two will look into why, how and what to change.

7. The training provided to the LFB – is it enough? Is the service capable of learning from the mistakes made at Grenfell? The inquiry suggests “no conclusion can be reached on questions of that kind” but that it will try to find an answer.

Debbie Dore, chief executive of Association for Project Management (APM) responded to the Grenfell Phase One report:

“This report is an important public document and we all need to ensure that the right lessons are learned. Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and the survivors on what will be a difficult day.

“Although this report focuses on the immediate event of the fire, much has been done by professional bodies to look at the wider issue of building safety and, crucially, the culture issues which underpin the building and renovation of high rise and similar buildings are addressed.

“We continue to work in cooperation with other professional bodies through the Construction Industry Council to achieve these changes.”

Responding to today’s publication, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) said:

“We welcome the recommendations and insight the inquiry report has provided regarding the response on the night of the tragic fire and renew our deepest sympathies to the bereaved, survivors and their families.

“We recognise that this report is a significant step towards ensuring nothing like this can ever happen again. We will now be contributing to Phase Two of the Inquiry, which will bring a greater understanding of the underlying causes of the fire.”

In a blog post from 2016, the Grenfell Action Group predicted the inevitability of a massive fire. They spoke of a near miss with an electrical fire in 2013, similar fires in similar buildings and a lack of interest from KCTMO on any of the potential outcomes.

The post said:

“It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out.”


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