Assistant Editor, IFSEC Global

October 27, 2021

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Grenfell Inquiry

Grenfell Tower Inquiry: “‘Stay Put’ strategy should have been disregarded sooner”, says Kent FRS engineer 

In a recent Grenfell Tower Inquiry Podcast, facilitated by BBC Sounds, Kate Lamble outlines the latest updates in the inquiry, including a dispute over the effectiveness of the London Fire Brigade’s ‘Stay Put’ strategy.  

GrenfellTower-20Over the past three weeks, the Grenfell Tower Inquiry has examined the actions of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) in the months and years leading up to the events at Grenfell, in June 2017. 

In evidence provided in court on 13th October 2021, a Judge heard how the LFB’s ‘Stay Put’ strategy, which relies on the idea that buildings are designed to stop the spread of fire for at least 60 minutes, had failed the residents of Grenfell and should have been dis-regarded sooner.  

At 12:54am on 14th June 2017, a fourth-floor resident called 999 after waking up to the site of flames in their kitchen after a fridge-freezer caught alight. Within 18 minutes, the fire climbed 19 floors, and yet, residents were not told to evacuate the building until 2:47am, almost two hours after the initial 999 call.   

LFB Commissioner Andy Roe, discussed the advice in court, claiming: “it was no longer valid advice…all of the safeguards that building regulations would normally give you had been stripped away”.  

In the case of Grenfell, by 2:20am, 27 minutes before ‘stay put’ advice was abandoned, the amount of thick black smoke present in the stairwell, the only means of escape, was so much it posed a significant risk to life.  

Kent Fire & Rescue Service is calling for other fire service providers in the UK to adopt its alternative to the ‘stay put’ method, Rescue Intervention Containment Escape (RICE). The method does not assume that compartmentation will hold, or that residents will not flee the building, and councils against default engagement with the fire deploying straight to intervention, before establishing by rapid reconnaissance of the staircase that compartmentation can be operationally relied upon”. It was designed to allow incident commanders to assess which of the four strategies should be prioritised.   

Paul Grimwood, Veteran Firefighter and Officer, developed the approach with the Kent Fire and Rescue Service, in 2009, after multiple high-rise fires took place in the county during the early 2000′s. Greenwood later worked in Malaysia training high-rise fire-fighters.   

The expectation of the Kent Fire and Rescue Service is that everyone should evacuate a building as soon as fire is detected.  

“RICE is not a policy or procedure, but a command decision making tool that is primarily an aid memoir used to alleviate command stress and prompt a pre-determined analytical thought process.” 

Paul also told the court that, all fire services across the UK were ‘very aware’ of the facade fires happening across Europe during the period, and the LFB should have been actively training its firefighters to disregard the ‘one fits all’ approach. 

Between 2010-2011 Kent Fire and Rescue Service hosted nine seminars on high-rise Firefighting for Commanders, at the first session they were assessed on how they planned to deal with the scenario. 

 In the first two seminars they reported a 100% fail rate, where intervention was the automatic response to high-rise fires.

In the next seven seminars, when the RICE approach was introduced, responses saw a significant improvement in operational decision making. Paul claims that, since then, RICE has become a well-known ‘buzzword’ in Kent, so why wasn’t it being implemented in London?  

Paul had also highlighted the risks of external fire spreads in modern buildings to the LFB in 2011, following investigations in Kent where the FRS had discovered combustible elements in certain buildings. 

A representative from the FBU had already responded in court, claiming RICE to be merely a tool in decision-making as opposed to concrete policy or procedure. They also argued that implementing RICE would not have helped residents with disabilities and ultimately, would not have been suitable in the case of Grenfell.  

Listen to the BBC’s Grenfell Inquiry Podcast, here, or listen to SHP’s podcast with Gill Kernick, discussing the lessons we should be taking from Grenfell, below.

The Future of Fire Safety: download the eBook

Is the fire protection industry adapting to the post-Grenfell reality fast enough? At FIREX International 2019, Europe's only dedicated fire safety event, some of the world's leading fire safety experts covered this theme. This eBook covers the key insights from those discussions on the developments shaping the profession, with topics including:

  • Grenfell Inquiry must yield “bedrock change” – and soon
  • After Grenfell: Jonathan O’Neill OBE on how austerity and policy “on the hoof” are hampering progress
  • Hackitt’s Golden Thread: Fire, facilities and building safety
  • Fire safety community has to “get on board” with technological changes

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