Firefighters are bracing for strong criticism of their response to theGrenfell Tower firethis week when the public inquiry into the disaster finally publishes its account of the 14 June 2017 blaze which claimed 72 lives.
Firefightersof different ranks who attended the incident have been warned they are facing criticism with the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) , Dany Cotton, expected to be among a handful of senior officers singled out in the 1, 000 – page report due to be laid before parliament on Wednesday.
It will include recommendations to the prime minister, Boris Johnson, which survivors hope will include reforms of building safety regulations and a review of the stay-put policy that recommends residents remain in burning towers on the basis fires are not supposed to spread beyond single apartments.
Several junior officers are also expected to be in the spotlight when the chairman of the inquiry, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, publishes the first of his planned two investigations into the disaster. )
The leader of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, told the Guardian his members are braced to rally around Michael Dowden, a watch manager who became the first commander on the scene, who they fear will be criticized. Wrack said he fears the report may be “a stitch-up” of firefighters. The report will focus on what happened on the night of the fire, with scrutiny of decisions about how it was refurbished using combustible cladding coming in the inquiry’s second phase starting next year.
The LFB has lined up counseling and wellbeing support services for staff affected by the report’s conclusions. 150 firefighters and control room staff involved in the tragedy have already been treated for adverse trauma response or post-traumatic stress disorder. *******
Survivors and the bereaved have called for the report to be “hard-hitting”. Cotton’s evidence to the inquiry in 2018 that to have prepared for a cladding fire such as the one which engulfed Grenfell would have been like planning for a “Space shuttle landing on the Shard” was “totally out of order”, Antonio Roncolato, the penultimate resident to escape Grenfell Tower told the Guardian.
“She is the number one and she is there to be criticized,” he said. “She should be criticized.”
Moore-Bick is expected to rule on whether fire commanders were wrong to keep telling residents to stay put rather than evacuate even as the fire burned out of control. The stay-put policy “effectively failed” at 1. 26 am,according toDr Barbara Lane, the inquiry’s fire engineering expert, but the LFB didn’t change the instruction to evacuate for another 69 minutes. At that time there were 117 occupants remaining in the building, but only 46 Escaped.
Sandra Ruiz, aunt of Jessica Urbano Ramirez, 12, who died on the 23 rd floor said: “They need to have a full review of their command, control and communication systems because we know that didn’t work”.
At the same time as Jessica was on the phone to a 999 operator, firefighter David Badillo was searching for her on the 20 th floor, but wasn’t told she had gone up.
“We know from the evidence they weren’t communicating,” said Ruiz. “We know they froze and no one really took charge. Their whole system was inefficient – dangerous for the people there and their own firefighters. ”
The LFB has already admitted that it did not properly gather data about Grenfell Tower before the fire and had failed to update training to 999 phone operators tasked with giving survival guidance to residents.
Firefighters are likely to point to deep budget cuts. A 2016independent reviewby Anthony Mayer , the former chief executive of the Greater London Authority, found that in the eight-year period since 2009 / 10, while Boris Johnson was mayor , the LFB was required to make gross savings of over £ 100 million, partly as a result of cuts to central government grants. This involved cutting fire appliances by 27, closing 10 fire stations , cutting two fire rescue units, cutting three training appliances, reducing fire rescue unit crewing levels and cutting 552 firefighter and 324 support staff posts.
A key question for both the families and the firefighters will be whether Moore-Bick rules that the £ 10 M 2016 refurbishment of the block was illegal on the basis that it flouted building regulations.
“The whole building had been turned into a death trap before any call went in and North Kensington firefighters turned out that night,” said Wrack. “We have always warned our members the inquiry could be a stitch-up of them. We we will defend our members vigorously. ”
Jon Wharmsby, a firefighter and FBU organizer who rescued two children from the tenth and eight floors, told the Guardian: “There have been thousands of high-rise fires in London and there has been one Grenfell. The difference between those fires is not the fire service or the firefighters. The only difference is that that building was refurbed in a specific way. ”
Wharmsby said he feared “scapegoating” of “people who put their lives at risk and officers put in charge of a fire they should never have been in charge of”.
“There’s a feeling around that the way the inquiry has been set up [is] that we are focusing on what firefighters did on that night first as a way to draw attention away from the real story of privatisation, profit over people ”.
Moore-Bick has told survivors he will also issue findings about the “nature of the building, the origins of the fire [and] its subsequent development”.
The report is expected to contain details of the circumstances of the deaths of many of the 72 people who died, so Moore-Bick will provide copies of the report to core participants to “digest it in privacy” two days before it is published on Wednesday.