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Grenfell Inquiry: Lack of Communication and Co-ordination (10 July 2018)

Date: 10/07/2018
Duncan Lewis, Legal News Solicitors, Grenfell Inquiry: Lack of Communication and Co-ordination

This week, the inquiry heard from several fire fighters who were the first on the scene at the Grenfell Tower tragedy on 14 June 2017.

Justin O'Beirne, a firefighter and key player at the Grenfell Tower tragedy, told the inquiry how he saw the fire spread to each floor.

O’Beirne recounted how he undertook a mission ‘off his own back’ to investigate the floors above the site of the kitchen fire. He ran up several flights of stairs, looking through the letterboxes of numerous flats and saw how the fire had spread to each floor above Flat 16. As he ascended the tower he noticed the smoke climbing up each flight of stairs.

O’Beirne admitted that he failed to knock on other doors on the floors due to the ‘stay put’ policy that was in place. He said that despite sending two radio warnings directly to incident commander Michael Dowden on the ground floor, the messages were unreceived. O’Beirne told the inquiry that he did not check to see whether anyone had later received these messages. On his way back down the tower he had seen an injured resident and radioed down once more but again, did not check to see if the message had been received.

The inquiry also heard how O’Beirne chose not to take breathing apparatus with him on the assumption that he would not need it. He agreed with the inquiry that his decision to act as a ‘free operator’ was not normal and it was clear that he acted off his own back. Corroborating O’Beirne’s assertion that the radio communications failed, incident commander Dowden confirmed that he did not receive the crucial information which indicated that the compartmentation was compromised and an evaluation was required.

Daniel Egan, a station manager in regulatory fire safety, joined the London Fire Brigade in 1992. He told the inquiry how he wanted to get everybody out of the tower and abandon the stay put policy. He claimed to have been ignored by three different superiors when he suggested abandoning the stay put policy and recounted how he decided to tell people to get out regardless.

Egan also explained how there was a white board for all firefighters to use that showed how many individuals were in each flat, whether they were young or elderly and if they needed to be rescued. The inquiry heard how there was a mix up between flats 113 and 133, prompting Egan to apologise for any mix ups there may have been on the night of the incident.

John O’Hanlon joined the Fire Brigade 16 years ago. He was one of the first to enter the fourth floor flat where the fire began and described how despite the firefighters pumping at least 240 L/pm of water onto the burning plastic window, the flames would not go out. He described how the outside of the building was “roaring” like a burning gas main and said that debris was falling off like water drops. He told the inquiry how he sat on the window ledge and tried to put out the fire that was, by then, climbing up the outside of the building. He too revealed that he did not radio down to anyone else as he thought someone else would have done this.

Crew manager, Chris Secrett, joined the London Fire Brigade in February 2001 and is ranked one level below watch manager Dowden. When he got inside the building he tried to activate the fire lift but this did not work. In addition, his radio communications had also failed, and so when he was inside the building trying to save residents he could not radio down for back up or to even let them know he was in danger.

Brien O’Keeffe, a watch manager who was part of the third crew on the scene, claimed the stay put procedure helped rescue crews locate residents in the tower. He revealed that he "wasn't in favour" of evacuation, explaining that there would have been bodies throughout the tower. When asked if he was in favour of the stay-put advice being abandoned, he said;

"I wasn't in favour…I needed to know what was going on. It was very important for me to know what is happening in the building, what advice is being given."

He further explained how residents were collapsing in the stairwell during rescues and had to be carried the rest of the way down,

It is clear from the evidence heard this week, that there was no clear strategy or plan as to how to tackle the fire. Crews were seemingly unprepared on how to tackle a fire of such magnitude and limited communication and confused information hampered the firefighters’ attempts at rescuing residents.

Fire fighters had mixed views on the stay put advice with some telling residents to leave the building and others stating that they should stay put in their flats. This raises huge cause for concern as to what training, if any, was provided to the fire fighters regarding the stay put policy and what type of plan of action is required when tackling in a high rise fire.

The inquiry continues to investigate each fire fighters’ key role in this horrific tragedy at Grenfell on 14th June 2017.

Author: Nilma Shah is a solicitor in the Personal Injury and Clinical Negligence department at Duncan Lewis with over 4 years post qualification experience. She is experienced in a mixed litigation cased load including fast track and multi-track claims and has dealt with a wide range of clinical negligence cases involving misdiagnosis, delay in diagnosis, surgical errors, and birth injury claims.

Contact Nilma on 020 3114 1274 or via email nilmap@duncanlewis.com.

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