Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Shocking Crime

Make no mistake about it. Shocking crimes of active and passive negligence were committed in London preceding, during and after the Grenfell Tower flats went up in a spectacular blaze of fire last year. I have added the reporting of the investigation by The Guardian to my RSS feed.

It is almost impossible to understand how this could have happened. Given where we live, in a highrise building, anything like this is of great interest to me.

Every official department failed. The local council who was in charge. The local government's hired minions. The government. Builders. Architects, and worst of all the Fire Brigade. Having mentioned the Fire Brigade is not a reflection on the extraordinary bravery and self sacrifice of the fire fighters. They were ill prepared and not even vaguely properly trained for this type of fire, never mind their lack of equipment and failed communication devices. But so many firefighters put their own lives at risk to rescue people, and rescue people they did. Nevertheless, 74 people died. That is shocking. I think this one report of one day of the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire kind of sums up everything you will read about the firefighters efforts.

I've never seen any reports about the 999 workers who were receiving calls from residents in the tower block. What must it like be for them to be talking on the phone to residents and them saying that help is on the way, as the person just dropped off the phone because they were being burnt or smoked to death.  The stuff of nightmares. (subsequently I have heard evidence from some 999 call takers)

https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/jul/04/grenfell-tower-firefighter-inquiry

A firefighter at Grenfell Tower prepared to die when his oxygen almost ran out during the attempted rescue of a 12-year old girl because the fire lift failed, the public inquiry has heard.
Christopher Secrett, a crew manager at North Kensington fire station, placed himself in a corner of the smoke-logged stairs, so his body would not be in the way if he died, and tried to text his mother, the inquiry heard.
Secrett described how he was responding to a call for help for Jessica Urbano Ramirez on the 20th floor and had climbed with colleagues through thick smoke and extreme heat up 14 storeys.
They should have been able to take control of the lift but that failed and carried them only six storeys. If it had worked his air would not have run out and this was “one of the major faults” at Grenfell, he said.
Radio communications between firefighters in the tower also failed, he said. “I knew we were in trouble,” he told the inquiry. “It was just too hot and I was running out of air.”
Jessica was found dead on the 23rd floor.
Secrett’s testimony came on a day when the horror of what faced the firefighters in the early hours of 14 June 2017 became clearer than ever.
They described bodies falling from the building, including one that hit a firefighter and another whose leg came away from his hip when firefighters tried to move him.
John O’Hanlon described the scene as “absolute carnage” and like a war zone, likening it to 9/11. “We noticed somebody had jumped and landed on the playground,” the firefighter said.
“I had seen a blur and heard a thud. It was going so fast I knew it wasn’t a piece of debris. He landed around 10 metres from me.”
Secrett said he saw the same man lying in a garage where he had been put. His separated leg was next to him where he lay in a pool of blood.
“I remember one casualty I had was a young girl, she was roughly the size of a two- or three-year-old,” said O’Hanlon. “She looked to be of Somali descent. I believe she may have been dead. I laid her down and her eyes were rolled to the back of her head. That face will always stay with me.”
O’Hanlon told the inquiry that when he first got to the scene he was reminded of a hotel fire in Dubai he had seen on YouTube, but he said he had had no training in responding to such exterior cladding fires.
The London fire brigade knew about such fires because it had compiled a slide show about the risks of combustible cladding in July 2016, featuring the Dubai blazes, the inquiry previously heard.
O’Hanlon was one of the first to enter the fourth floor flat where the fire began and described how even though firefighters were pumping at least 240 litres of water per minute on to the burning plastic window surround the flames would not go out. He said the outside of the building was “roaring” like a burning gas main.
There were also “heated discussions” between firefighters over whether enough was being done to save people, said Daniel Egan, a fire safety manager who was responsible for relaying information from 999 calls from people inside the tower to the firefighters entering the building.
Egan said he had repeatedly told the firefighters at the bridgehead about two adults and two children inside flat 133 on the 17th floor, but believed they had not been reached, and described the response as frustrating.
Secrett, a firefighter for 19 years, said he had never experienced heat like he felt in flat 176, where Jessica lived with her family.
“At this point, the temperature just soared,” he said. “It went from what I would call normal hot to unbearable. I dropped to my knees and I think I actually lay down on the floor. I knew we couldn’t stay there. I crawled out and called to firefighter [David] Badillo that we had to get out of there.”
“I grabbed his arm and told him I was running out of air so he was to stay with me and we needed to get out. The temperature got even hotter. I remember lying on my belly and it took me a while to get back on my knees. I thought it was going to flashover and go. Flashover is when the temperature increases and increases until everything in the room will self-combust.”
They were also with Chris Dorgu, a firefighter whom they lost in the heat and smoke as they started to descend, but neither man had the energy to call out for him.
“I looked at my gauge and saw I only had 15 bar left,” Secrett said. “I was in big trouble. I put myself in a corner of the stairwell because I did not want to be in anyone else’s way if I didn’t make it out. I tried to get my phone out of my pocket to text my mum but I couldn’t get the phone out.”
Dorgu emerged and they came down together “stumbling, falling and crawling trying to get down”.
After spending time in recovery, Secrett started carrying the dead and injured from the block.
“It was raining debris everywhere,” he said. “Someone had jumped out the tower. He hit a firefighter on his back. There were lots of people there who went to help so I continued to help by putting out fires. There were taxis and mopeds nearby catching fire.”
The inquiry continues. Absolutely criminal. People should be gaoled. 

27 comments:

  1. Your final paragraph says it all. Obscene that it could happen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. EC, I truly think so, but I don't think any blame can be laid at one person.

      Delete
  2. I agree Andrew. I do feel sorry for the firefighters who had no training and who had to witness that horror and see all those bodies and people throwing themselves out of the windows, I'm sure those images will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sami, indeed, as you say. But the call takers at 999 must have been so traumatised too.

      Delete
  3. People should be sent to jail for a lot more things than they presently are, in my opinion. And those who are sent need to go for longer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Snoskred, I agree on both counts.

      Delete
  4. It's not until you read testimonies like this you really understand.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Cathy. That was the point of me posting this.

      Delete
  5. The London fire brigade knew the risks of combustible cladding, way before Grenfell. Yes it is a relatively old building but everyone knew the material used for the cladding was primarily aluminium.

    You are right. Safety plans, good sprinklers and well trained staff are very important. But if were forget that aluminium a] is not fire resistant and b] has high conductivity, we are stuffed :(

    I wonder how many buildings are still around, including in Australian cities, with their aluminium cladding still intact :(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hels, Heaps of Australian buildings have external flammable material, and I don't see anything being done, but our fire prevention standards are much higher.

      Delete
  6. How terrible. We should be better prepared for such disasters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Dinae, better prepared and the infrastructure of buildings has to be first class.

      Delete
  7. See https://www.lrb.co.uk/v40/n11/andrew-ohagan/the-tower terrible to read.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Marcellous. I will save it for tomorrow to not savour.

      Delete
  8. PS: that's an enormously lengthy piece in the London Review of Books. It has been criticized for being unduly forgiving to the council and management responsible but it is nevertheless an agonizing read as it traces the history of actual people, some of whom you know are not going to come out of this alive. The worst thing to me was that people were advised to "stay put" (ie, wait to be rescued, don't clog up the stairs or panic etc) when the advice was inapt for the situation and those people died.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The theory of staying put was good had the building been maintained as it should have been. It is British practice for such buildings of that time.

      Delete
  9. A tragedy that should never have happened. One hopes similar will never occur again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lee, you can be sure it will happen again. The $/£ is a great motivator to cut corners and not do things properly.

      Delete
  10. This is such a horror to read and to have no way out. I lived in some slum high rises, not so high though, only seven floors. We had a couple fires. The elevator was always breaking down too and we felt, being one of the only slums in Corvallis, that if a big fire hit they'd let us burn.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Strayer, there was a time when I would have thought your statement was ridiculous but I know it isn't.

      Delete
  11. It's a story from hell Andrew! Have heads rolled yet?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Grace, far from it. The inquiry has not finished. At best there might be some resignations of those who have not already moved on.

      Delete
  12. It is still hard to believe that this happened in London and not a third world city. I will never understand why flammable cladding even exists. What building whether high or low should ever be clad in a flammable material? There are many high rise blocks throughout the country that are still at risk. Did you know that some councils have employed 24 hr fire watchers to patrol some buildings whilst they try and work out what to do?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I agree Marie. Who ever thought flammable cladding should be put on the outside of buildings? Well, China did and as a result many buildings in Australia have flammable cladding. It is the same here, and there is pressure on owner/occupiers to pay. But why should they? Like in the UK, no official person here has ever made it clear that whether the use of such cladding was illegal or not. Illegal being against building regulations.

      Delete
  13. Has anything happened here with the buildings that have flammable cladding? I bet not. Unbelievable.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Fen, I think it is at a bit of a stalemate as to who will pay. I think the builders should if they used substandard material, or if that wasn't the case, the governments for not banning it.

      Delete

Democracy is all very well, but why give it to the people? - Audrey Forbes-Hamilton.