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NFCC “driving change” in response to Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommendations

10 December 2020

THE GRENFELL Tower fire was an appalling tragedy that has sent shock waves throughout this country and the rest of the world. Nowhere more so than in Fire and Rescue Services across the UK. The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) is working with every Fire and Rescue Services to drive changes that will stop such an event from ever happening again.

On the first anniversary (ie Friday 30 October) of the publication of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s Grenfell Tower Inquiry report, all Fire and Rescue Services continue to react to the 46 recommendations within, making changes to the way in which firefighters would respond in similar circumstances.

NFCC chair Roy Wilsher commented: “It’s more than three years since the fire and the thoughts of everyone working in Fire and Rescue Services across the UK remain with those families still coming to terms with the appalling and unnecessary loss of their loved ones. Our hearts go out to them.”

The NFCC is dedicated to identifying the root causes of the fire and making sure that the right things are done to address them. Therefore, the overriding priority for the NFCC is to make sure there’s meaningful change in the way that buildings (including high-rise homes) are constructed, refurbished and then managed on an ongoing basis.

Wilsher added: “High-rise residential buildings need to have safety features that protect both the residents and firefighters from a fire. If those features are not present, or otherwise fail, members of the public and the firefighters who serve them will find themselves in a hugely challenging and very dangerous situation. We’re seeing clear evidence of a failure in the building system that should make sure that buildings are safe. Sadly, the Grenfell Tower fire is not an isolated example.”

Support from the NFCC

In the face of the possibility of the failure of the features designed to protect people, all Fire and Rescue Services are making changes to the way in which they will respond in these circumstances. For its part, the NFCC is supporting them to do this.

Although the Grenfell Tower fire happened in London, its lessons are applicable to every Fire and Rescue Service in the UK. Every one of Sir Martin’s 46 recommendations has been studied to determine what the implications are across the UK.

The NFCC is determined to help all Fire and Rescue Services respond to the recommendations. It has grouped them into 11 national themes which are being rigorously pursued, with multiple actions being taken against each theme. Having national themes with supporting work aligned to them helps to ensure a consistent adoption in local Fire and Rescue Services.

Key progress to date includes Fire and Rescue Services reviewing all high-rise residential buildings with ACM cladding. Further to this, and to ensure other safety features are in place, all high-rise residential buildings will be audited or reviewed by the end of 2021.

The NFCC is working with Government to improve the legal framework that supports safety, including prioritising which buildings should be ‘in scope’ under the new Building Safety Regulator, who’ll be responsible for ensuring new regulations are followed as outlined in the Building Safety Bill.

Focus on evacuation

Evacuation featured in no less than nine of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry’s recommendations. As a result, more than half of all Fire and Rescue Services are now using smoke hoods. Employed by firefighters when evacuating people from buildings, the air filters remove smoke’s toxic gases, providing additional protection for up to 15 minutes. 

Further, nearly all Fire and Rescue Services have made changes in their approach towards moving from ‘Stay Put’ to ‘Get Out’ in high-rise residential buildings when it’s safe to do so.

The NFCC has updated national guidance on firefighting in tall buildings and has also updated Control Room guidance with a specific priority on the guidance given by fire control to occupants trapped or being affected by a fire. New fire standards in England will form part of the Fire and Rescue Service inspection programme in order to ensure that the guidance is embedded in Fire and Rescue Services. This is all supported by national training requirements and learning materials.

Roy Wilsher observed: “Fire and Rescue Services cannot be held responsible for decades of failure caused by buildings that are not built or maintained in accordance with the Building Regulations. Significant action is needed by those responsible for buildings. Without this, people will continue to be put at risk.”

Wilsher would also like to see leaseholders “unburdened” from the cost of expensive temporary measures that have been put into place, such as fire patrols and waking watches. “Building owners need to take responsibility and not pass on crippling costs to leaseholders. These measures were intended to be temporary and most certainly they were not supposed to be in place more than three years later.”

Legislative change

Since the night of the Grenfell Tower fire, the NFCC has been involved in a wide-range of work to ensure an incident like this cannot happen again, playing a major role in areas such as the Hackitt Review, calling on the Government to make legislative change and influencing the direction of forthcoming Government bills. All of the NFCC’s input has been based on the extensive collective knowledge of the entire UK Fire and Rescue Service.

In conclusion, Wilsher stated: “I would like to reiterate how members of the Grenfell Tower community have carried themselves with dignity and compassion in the pursuit of justice. I sincerely hope the second phase of Sir Martin Moore-Bick’s inquiry process delivers them the answers they need and deserve.”