Socialist Worker

Deregulation led to Grenfell Tower fire, argues new firefighters’ union report

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2621

Firefighters on the monthly Silent Walk for Grenfell

Firefighters on the monthly Silent Walk for Grenfell (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Firefighters were not responsible for people dying in the Grenfell Tower fire, despite the propaganda campaign being mounted against them.

That’s the message from a new report from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) into the fire and the context in which it happened.

The Grenfell Tower Fire—Background to an Atrocity looks at the deregulation of the fire and safety industries in the decades leading up to the fire.

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The main example it gives is the 11 June 1999 fire at Garnock Court, a 14 storey residential block in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Garnock Court was covered in flammable cladding which allowed the fire to spread to the top floor in ten minutes. 

One person died as a result of the fire. The FBU warned then against the use of such cladding on high rise blocks.

Speaking at the release of the report in Parliament on Wednesday, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack described Garnock Court as “a prediction of what happened at Grenfell Tower.

“We didn’t expect it to happen on that scale, but we did warn of the possibility of that happening.

“And I think the scandal which lies behind it is that nobody has actually acted on the warning that was given after that fire in 1999.”

Moyra Samuels is part of the Justice4Grenfell campaign. She spoke at the event for the release of the FBU report on Wednesday.

“The report goes through some of the history of deregulation,” she told Socialist Worker afterwards. “The recommendations made back then were largely ignored—and warnings about the danger of cladding after the fire at Garnock Court in particular.”

Uncontrolled

The union said said cladding could act as a "vehicle for assisting uncontrolled fire spread" which "poses a threat to the safety of the residents" above the fire.

“The idea is for the recommendations in this FBU report to be implemented to prevent an atrocity like Grenfell from happening again,” said Moyra.

“It’s important to recognise the context in which firefighters were operating on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire.

“The inquiry’s focus on the immediate events means there was no context for any of the decisions made on the night.”

That means the way in which firefighters’ actions were reported lacked the full background. For instance, firefighters could not have known the science behind the “stay put” policy had been rendered redundant.

The FBU's report comes as the Grenfell Tower Fire inquiry resumes after a summer recess.

This week it heard of yet more failings from Kensington and Chelsea council. Hammersmith station manager Peter Johnson told the inquiry that building plans were not where they were supposed to be in a fireproof box near the entrance of the building.

It adds to an overwhelming list of failings the council made in the run up to the fire. Arrests of those responsible right to the top of government have yet to be made.


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