London’s fire chief has called for urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’ alongside a review of the stay-put policy for residents during high-rise fires
Dany Cotton, the London Fire Commissioner, said yesterday (16 October) that a lack of clarity about which tower blocks were able to withstand blazes meant advice for residents to ‘stay put’ may no longer be viable.
Updating the London Assembly on the London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) response to the Grenfell fire tragedy, Cotton said ministers should take action to reverse ‘more than 20 years of neglect’.
The LFB has been calling for changes to building regulations including for sprinklers to be fitted in more types of buildings, not just residential high-rises.
She said: ‘We know that fire spread to the top of Grenfell Tower in less than 30 minutes. Based on what we have learned since the fire, I am calling for urgent research on buildings that fail. We need such research because buildings that fail mean stay-put advice is no longer viable.’
Cotton’s call came as she delivered the London Fire Brigade’s interim report into how it has responded to the tragedy, which killed 72 people in June 2017.
The changes LFB has introduced include use of new equipment for high-rise fires such as drones, a restructuring of the management of its 999 control room and fire survival guidance refresher training for staff.
Cotton, who recently announced she was due to retire three years into her role, faced criticism during the first phase of the inquiry after she said she would not have changed anything about the LFB’s response on the night of the fire.
In her update yesterday, Cotton emphasised that the failures of the building were to blame. She said that since 2014 there had been more than 5,000 fires in London high rises and in the vast majority of these ‘stay-put’ advice had been effective.
She said: ’This building [Grenfell] was never designed or built for mass evacuation. It is completely understandable that stay-put advice has been questioned, but we are talking about buildings that fail, rather than advice that fails –and there is no clear alternative, which is why this research is needed.’
The LFB report comes just two weeks before the findings from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower inquiry are due to be published.