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Grenfell anger and Call for a National Fire Safety Agency

December 2018

This year’s Fire Sector Summit was held at Aviva Headquarters London on October II. where keynote addresses were delivered by Fire Sector Federation President Brian Robinson and National Fire Chiefs Council Chair Roy Wilsher. A rousing address was also delivered at the pre-event reception at Mansion House by broadcast journalist Nick Ross.

A Time to Be Angry

Speaking at the Fire Protection Association’s Fire Sector Summit reception at Mansion House, Nick Ross said he hoped to revive the passions the audience felt when the news of Grenfell was still fresh. “Because this is a time to be angry, and anger is sometimes the right response. This is also a time for honest self-reflection in this Industry – because so many people, including those in this sector, did not do what they should. But it’s also a time to celebrate – because our of this appalling tragedy, as with the Great Fire of London, there are lessons to be learned and good sense is at last emerging. Why should we be angry? You could argue Grenfell was an accident. But it wasn’t. It was a consequence. A consequence of decisions made and not made in officialdom.

“For heaven’s sake lets acknowledge that In a civilised country, after centuries of learning how to prevent fires and stop them in their tracks. Grenfell was a testament to bad government, to had policy, to an abdication of responsibility. First, let’s dispose of some myths about Grenfell: that we don’t know what happened and must await the official inquiries; that it was the council’s fault: that the cladding was only there to gentrify the area; that the problem is only with high-rise buildings. None of those is true.”

Mr Ross listed the factors that have become apparent – from the cause of fire in a Hotpoint fridge freezer to the performance of Reynobond cladding – and regulations, “specifically Approved Document B, Fire Safety, are difficult to follow and haven’t been updated for well over a decade.”

“We know successive ministers have been resistant to updating them. We know successive ministers have refused to require sprinklers – or even to encourage their use, let alone campaign in favour of them. I could name them all. Again let’s recall that their indifference was despite the recommendations of the Lakanal House Coroner. We know that the Grenfell scheme must have been officially approved by a building control process. In short, we know a lot.”

Mr Ross emphasised that it was not Just the council to blame and that the real culprits “are higher up the food chain.”

“For heaven’s sake, how could successive governments and successive ministers be so complacent? Sometimes politicians and their advisers get fixated on tabloid terms like ‘red tape’. Yes. by all means cut unnecessary regulation. But first check that it really is unnecessary.

Good governance can never be reflexive even if politics so often is. The people who took the decision not to have routine reviews of building regulations bear responsibility for the Grenfell deaths (and many others tool). I wonder if they still think that their slashing of red tape was really worth it Buildings regulations, like sprinklers. are not unnecessary burdens: they’re life-savers.”

Mr Ross also said it was time to reflect on Fire Service performance as well, singling out Chief Fire and Rescue Advisor Peter Holland and London Fire Brigade Commissioner Deny Cotton for praise whilst condemning the National Fire Chiefs Council for lack of action and a Service that “seems to have got more political in recent years” and “more and more obsequious.” He said the Service needs to “boldly go where politicians don’t want to go, and confront what politicians would prefer to shy away from.”

Mr Ross concluded by issuing a rallying cry for sprinklers. “Grenfell has roused us from our complacency: he asserted. ‘England has woken us. Now we must catch up with Wales. And we must turn on anger at Grenfell to positive effect.”

For Nick Ross’ speech in full click here.