Grenfell – the government must act

Publish Date: 15th June 2017

Image: Grenfell – the government must act

The Emergency Planning Society has called upon the Government to act upon recommendations outlined after three previous tower block fires.

Chair of the Emergency Planning Society, Tony Thompson, said:

“Since 2005, there have been three major fires in tower blocks leading to fatalities. In each case, the authorities or the coroner made recommendations that could improve tower block safety. Each time, the government has made assuring noises but never given any indication of action.”

He added:

“Our thoughts are with the victims of the Grenfell tragedy and their families. Our members professionals working in the resilience and emergency response sector, including many who will be involved in the response to the Grenfell Block tragedy – will continue in their role, as best they can with increasingly limited resources, to keep our communities safe.”

There are 4,000 tower blocks in the UK. Since 2005, there have been three major incidents in which life has been lost in tower block fires: • 2005: Harrow Court, Stevenage – two firefighters and one member of the public lost their lives. There were calls for ‘retrofitting’ of sprinklers in all tower blocks in the aftermath. It is estimated this would cost £1,200 per flat. • 2009: Lakanal House, Southwark – six killed. The investigation found that panelling on the exterior walls did not provide fire resistance. • 2010: Shirley Towers, Southampton – two firefighters killed. Clasps holding up cables were not fire resistant, and the firefighters became entangled in them as they collapsed. In the subsequent inquest, the Coroner called for fire resistant clasps to be introduced and better signage to be employed.

Tony Thompson said:

“There have been several warning signs over the past few years. Last year, the Housing Minister Gavin Barwell said the Government would review the Housing Regulations 2010 in wake of the Southwark inquest. Unfortunately, he lost his seat last week, but has been retained as Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister, so hopefully he can brief the Prime Minister on what progress the Government has made on tower block safety.”

Tony Thompson said of the Grenfell tragedy, there have been early indications of problems with the fire and smoke alarm volumes, that only one stairwell was available, that Fire Safety messages told people to stay in their homes, and the ‘rain cladding’ to the exterior of the building was a major contributing factor.

He said:

“I have been speaking to EPS members who have had experience of tower block fires in the past, and they all report that they have never seen a fire engulf such a building in such a short space of time. There are reports that the cladding acted as a chimney to allow the fire to spread upwards rapidly.”