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'Haunting and tragic' that most of Grenfell Tower deaths were preventable

'Haunting and tragic' that most of Grenfell Tower deaths were preventable
3 min read

Lessons must be learned as quickly as possible to avoid more tragedies, says former firefighter, Jim Fitzpatrick MP.

Over the past few days, I have been called upon to speak publicly on the appalling incident that is the Grenfell Tower fire in West London. One of the reasons that I received so many requests from the media is that I was a firefighter before becoming a Member of Parliament.  Another is my involvement as Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue, and also I was Fire Minister in the last Labour Government for a time.

The Chief Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton, has said that, in 29 years, she has never seen anything like it.  There have been some high-rise blazes in the United Arab Emirates – Dubai – in recent years; but Grenfell Tower’s fire is singular.  This has not happened in the UK before. 

I’ve referred many times over the last few days to the fire in Southwark in 2009, in Lakanal House, in which six people died.  At the Coroner’s Enquiry, recommendations were made in the aftermath, to try to prevent similar disasters in the future.

We are barely at even the beginning of investigations into the fire, but I have initially made some comments that seem apposite to me, from what I have seen and heard so far:

  • Ministers have been warned about the need to review the building regulations after Lakanal House upgrade housing safety regulations, and the Fire All-Party Group has written a number of times about this;
  • The company which refurbished Grenfell Tower with the new external cladding, which caught fire from floor to floor, has questions to answer, and I’m sure this will be central for the Public Enquiry;
  • Retro fitting of sprinklers in high rise blocks was suggested by the Lakanal House Coroner.

These deaths and injuries should not have happened.  The vast majority, if not all, were preventable.  The fact that this can be stated unequivocally is haunting and tragic. 

There are other issues just as important but not as dramatic as the heroism of our firefighters or the operation of fire sprinklers.  For instance:

  • Maintenance and inspection of buildings;
  • Quality of work on repairs/refurbishments;
  • Inspection of finished work of repairs/refurbishments;
  • Fire protection specification for materials in buildings;
  • Procurement and supply of appropriate materials.
  • Regular review of building regulations to ensure protection legislation keeps up with modern methods of construction, and new materials being developed and used.

The Commons will undoubtedly debate the fire and the general issue of fire safety in the weeks and months ahead.

The key issues now are:

  • Complete the review of similar buildings asap;
  • Help for the survivors and victims’ relatives, and
  • The Terms of Reference for, and timeframe of, the Public Enquiry announced by the PM.

Lessons are learned, sadly, from tragedies like Grenfell.  We need to make sure they are learned as quickly as possible to protect people more effectively.

Jim Fitzpatrick is the Labour Member of Parliament for Poplar and Limehouse.

Also responding to the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the British Safety Council has urged the UK Government to scrap its approach to deregulation of health and safety legislation. Read the full story here.​

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