The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has been slammed by a damning new report into the Greenfell Tower fire in which 72 people died after the building became engulfed by flames more than two years ago.
Released on Wednesday, the first of two reports to be published as part of the two-phase inquiry chaired by Retired Honourable Sir Martin Moore-Bick focused on the events of the night of the fire on June 14, 2017.
It described the preparedness of the Brigade as ‘gravely inadequate’, and said there also were many shortcomings in the LFB’s on-ground response and control room operations.
The report also found that combustible cladding was the primary reason for the fire’s rapid spread.
According to the report, the fire broke out shortly after midnight as a result of an electrical fault in a large fridge-freezer in the kitchen of Flat 16 which was occupied by Behadil Kebede (whom Moore-Bick stresses bore no responsibility for the fire).
Before fire fighters arrived, the fire had entered the cladding.
Once entering the cladding, the fire spread rapidly up the face of the tower, around the top of the building in both directions and down the sides until the advancing flame fronts converged on the west face near the south-west corner and engulfed the entire building.
Moore-Bick said aluminium composite panels with a polyethylene core were the primary reason for the fire’s rapid spread.
“The principal reason why the flames spread so rapidly up, down and around the building was the presence of the aluminium composite material (ACM) rainscreen panels with polyethylene cores, which acted as a source of fuel,” Moore-Bick said in his report.
“The principal mechanism for the spread of the fire horizontally and downwards was the melting and dripping of burning polyethylene from the crown and from the spandrel and column panels, which ignited fires lower down the building.
“Those fires then travelled back up the building, thereby allowing the flame front to progress diagonally across each face of the tower.”
Moore-Bick said that the wall system failed to comply with building regulations issued in 2010.
Contrary to requirements under those regulations for wall systems to resist the spread of fire having regard to the height, use and position of the building, Moore-Bick said the wall system on Grenfell actively promoted the fire’s rapid spread.
Beyond cladding, Moore-Bick found there were other problems with the building.
Extractor fan units in kitchens had a propensity to deform and become dislodged, providing a point of entry for the fire to spread from the outside of the building to the interior.
Some fire doors were either left open or failed to close because they lacked effective self-closing devices.
But the most stinging criticisms were reserved for the London Fire Brigade, whose efforts the report said were lacking in planning and preparation, on the ground during the incident and in the control room.
According to the report:
- Otherwise experienced commanders and senior officers attending the fire had not received any training about combustible cladding.
- Incident commanders had no training in how to recognise the need for or organise an evacuation.
- There were no contingency plans for the evacuation of the tower.
- Basic information about the tower on a database maintained by the LFB was either wrong or missing, rendering it useless to an incident commander.
- At the incident itself, whilst those firefighters who attended displayed courage and devotion to duty, many of the first incident commanders were of relatively junior rank.
- During fire-fighting efforts, information about the spread of the fire was not effectively shared, many physical or electronic systems such as the command support system failed to work properly and officers failed to inform themselves quickly enough of conditions and operations within the building.
- ‘Stay put’ advice was given and a ‘stay put’ strategy was adopted when the tower in fact should have been evacuated, resulting in the best part of an hour being lost before this advice was revoked.
- Whilst control room staff faced an unprecedented number of calls and undoubtedly saved lives, there were many shortcomings in the control room’s practice, policy and training.
In response, the report made 35 recommendations.
These cover areas such as information being made available to fire and rescue services about high-rise buildings and combustible cladding, communication between the control room and incident commanders, handling of emergency calls, communication equipment being used by crews at the scene of the fire, evacuation of high-rise buildings, provision of fire safety information to residents in high-rise and the inspection of fire doors and self-closing doors and sprinkler protection.
On combustible cladding, Moore-Bick said it was unnecessary to recommend a ban on use of flammable materials in wall systems which did meet the highest classification of standards under the European classification system in relation to fire known as Euro class A1 on the basis that the government had already banned used of certain types of materials whose classification in reaction to fire is lower than A2s1, d0.
He did, however, stress the urgency of existing buildings with combustible cladding being remediated as soon as possible.