Lessons from Grenfell London Fire Disaster of 14th June 2017

Russ Timpson, Secretary of the Tall Building Fire Safety Network, called the tragedy the fire industry’s ‘asbestos moment’. He said: “We’ve now discovered a horrendous miscalculation. We’re going to be judged on how we respond to this, going forward.

Tall building fire safety management more essential than ever in wake of Grenfell London Fire disaster which claimed 72 lives, one year ago today.

Fire safety management planning is imperative, especially in tall buildings. Speaking at FIREX International on 20th June, Chartered fire engineer Russ Timson said: “Grenfell will shape us for some time to come and it will make a difference and confirm the importance of management of these type of buildings.”

Previously a firefighter of nearly 20 years, Timson underlined the importance of strong building management in preventing similar disasters. “Any building can be kept safe if it’s managed correctly,” he said. “It’s the biggest measure for existing buildings to see if they are safe or not. It’s critical.”

He explained that an increase in high-rise buildings will ultimately influence the way we live. “There’s going to be 400 new tall buildings in London in the next four years, additional to what we have now. The way we work and the way our society works is going to change fundamentally.”

He also expressed concern that issues such as emergency lights malfunctions and arson risks were being given to security managers, engineering managers or health and safety managers; people who, he said, “are not competent to do it”.

Pushing his point, he asked the audience if illicit smoking in the workplace counted as arson. Delegate hands stayed down but eyebrows were raised when Timson revealed the sentencing of a man whose cigarette caused a fire at his non-smoking workplace. “Arson is not just about intent, it’s about the degree of recklessness,” he explained.

Summarising, Timson asked for a re-definition of what constitutes a tall/high-rise building; the integration of fire detection and alarm systems that have the resilience and flexibility to change evacuation strategies as circumstances dictate; and a competent fire safety manager to oversee high-rise buildings.

While Grenfell Tower residents fled the London disaster site coughing with soot-blackened faces, the fire service commander ruled out an evacuation of the blazing tower block.

Michael Dowden, the most senior fire officer for the crucial first hour of the blaze that claimed 72 lives, told the official inquiry he was “consumed” by the incident, reports the Independent.

He found himself in charge on June 14 last year when his superior was delayed reaching the site.

On Wednesday Mr Dowden was asked by inquiry lead counsel Richard Millett QC if he had considered evacuation at 1.19am when it became clear the fire was spreading.

Grenfell survivors say they feel let down
He replied: “No ... at that moment in time, things are rapidly developing and it is a very, very dynamic situation.”

Mr Dowden said he unaware what was happening in the building.

But the sight of the escaping residents shortly before 1.30am and distinctive snaking movement of the fire prompted him to call for more fire engines to come to the scene, he told the hearing.

Problems with the water pressure meant his crews had to carry hoses to the top floors of the 24-storey building.

This resulted in fire doors being propped open and smoke filling the only escape route.

The blaze is believed to have started in one of the flats and quickly spread through the tower block in London.

The decision by fire officers not to order an immediate evacuation has come under intense public scrutiny and is believed to have contributed to the death toll. Residents were told to stay in their flats until 2.47am – almost two hours after the blaze began.

The emergency services’ response was also hampered by lack of resources in the early part of the fire.

Mr Dowden handed over control of the incident to a superior officer at 2 am by which time 25 fire engines had arrived.