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Lack of resources hampering rescue missions

11 July 2018

FIREFIGHTERS AT the Grenfell Tower fire did not have the resources required to tackle such an enormous blaze, the public inquiry into the disaster has heard.

Watch manager Brian O’Keefe was on the third fire appliance dispatched to the scene. He told the inquiry how there were no BA crews left to deploy, that firefighters ran out of breaking-in equipment (used to gain entry into apartments) and they had run out of firefighting branches. (A branch is a nozzle that fits onto the end of a hose*).

“It was now clear to me that we didn’t have enough firefighting resources available to meet the rapidly increasing fire within the building”, he said.

Commenting on this evidence, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said: “It is becoming clear that fire services simply do not have the resources they require to do their jobs safely and effectively. This is the result of a decade’s long experiment with deregulation that has allowed for resources and standards to be scaled back to worryingly basic levels. It is something that our union has been warning the government about for many years. The experiment has clearly failed.

“The same lack of resources that fire crews saw at Grenfell is now being experienced by firefighters tackling the moorland fires in the North West. This is a UK wide issue and one that the government needs to get a handle on. Fire and rescue services need to be properly funded so we can keep people safe.”

Firefighters in the North West have had to rely on donations from the public for basic supplies like sun cream, socks and insect repellent. Fire crews and appliances have also been called to assist from all over the UK.

Resourcing is expected to be a substantial area of concern for the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The London Fire Brigade has lost 1,300 firefighters since 2010 and ten fire stations have closed. The borough that is home to Grenfell Tower, Kensington and Chelsea, has lost two fire appliances and Knightsbridge fire station was closed in 2014.

Mr O’Keefe raised concerns about a 2013 decision to remove aerial appliances from the pre-determined attendance (PDA) to high-rise fires. The PDA lists a number of resources that are automatically dispatched as soon as a fire is reported. The PDA was downgraded under Mayor Boris Johnson with the result that on the night of the Grenfell Tower fire it took 38 minutes for an aerial appliance to arrive. In the past, the vehicle would have arrived sooner.

In his witness statement, O’Keefe illustrated how firefighters exhausted themselves trying to rescue as many people as possible. “Along with others in the lobby I started assisting with casualties because the crews were so tired they were dropping them”, he said. “Some of the crews had no BA face masks on. They'd taken them off and given them to the kids. Of course, that meant they'd taken a lot of smoke themselves and some of them were quite ill. Firefighters were returning to the lobby dazed and collapsing from heat and exhaustion. We had several firefighters pass out.”