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Fire Brigades Union Demands Action From Government

It is now over two years since the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower claimed the lives of 72 people and devastated a close-knit community in the heart of London. The high-rise tower block that was their home was wrapped in materials that ignited faster than petrol (according to one of the distributors of the cladding found on Grenfell Tower). No-one has yet been found responsible for their deaths and the public inquiry set up to investigate the causes of the fire has yet to publish any findings. 

Amidst the complacency of the government about the risk of high-rise fires and the mounting anger from the survivors and the public over the slow pace of change, the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has launched a campaign that identifies the urgent steps the government needs to take to prevent another tragedy on this scale from occurring. 

The FBU’s campaign ‘Grenfell: Never Again’ is calling for all combustible cladding to be urgently replaced on all buildings, irrespective of height. This would require a major national programme to assess and prioritise the scale of the risk and adopt interim safety measures which residents, other building users and firefighters could have confidence in.

A democratic and independent tenant organisation must be set up so social housing can be held to the highest health and safety standards. Tenants of Grenfell were repeatedly ignored – their voices, and those of others in social housing should be heard loud and clear through democratic structures. 

Further, our fire and rescue service needs urgent investment and overhaul, and a structure which is accountable to Parliament. For too long the fire service has been left to rot. As a vital public service, fire and rescue needs central oversight, including national standards and structures, minimum response times and a commitment to five firefighters on every fire engine. This requires an urgent investment in a new generation of firefighters and fire safety officers. Since 2010, we have lost one in five firefighter jobs and one in four fire safety officers. Fire safety officers are absolutely critical to preventing fires. 

We need a national review of procedures when compartmentation fails, that is why we are calling for an urgent, national review of the ‘Stay Put’ policy. This must involve all stakeholders, including representatives of firefighters, tenants and residents.

Our campaign is driven by the view that only systemic changes to the fire safety regime in the UK can prevent the recurrence of another atrocity like Grenfell. Over the last three decades, fire safety has been undermined by deregulation, the scrapping of professional standards and the fragmentation of fire and rescue services, resulting in a postcode lottery of fire safety standards and procedures. 

There is no national body to oversee the development of fire and rescue service policy, which results in standards varying across authorities and lessons not being learned or applied. Recent research by the FBU has shown a wide disparity in the levels of preparedness of fire and rescue services across the country to tackle a similar fire to Grenfell. As things stand, we are at risk of another catastrophic loss of life, despite the fact that the warning signs have been there for years. There is a deep and unforgivable complacency at the heart of government over public safety.

Our campaign, launched with the Daily Mirror, has received the support of Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan, among others. We hope it will pressure the government to take decisive action on the underlying, deadly risks that led to Grenfell. Please sign our petition here and share widely. 

By Matt Wrack, the General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).