London Fire evacuation policy must be altered


The government should review ‘stay put’ advice during high-rise fires, the head of the London Fire Brigade has said. Residents in tall buildings are normally advised not to leave their homes when there is a fire in their block.

But London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said this policy should be reconsidered when buildings fail, as in the case of Grenfell Tower fire.

The devastating blaze claimed the lives of 72 people on 17 June 2017. aThe fire began just before 1am, and spread to the top of the building in just half an hour.

But despite the strength of the blaze, residents were told to stay in their flats until 2.47am, when an evacuation was ordered. Though 223 people escaped the tower, only 36 made it out after the ‘stay put’ advice was removed. Experts have since said evacuation should have begun over an hour earlier.

Now the London Fire Brigade has published a report calling on the government to research what to do when buildings fail during a fire. It also calls for a ban on all flammable cladding, and for sprinklers to be fitted in more buildings.

Speaking at the London Assembly today, Ms Cotton stressed that since 2014 there have been 5,000 high-rise fires in London, and in most cases ‘stay put’ advice remains effective.

But commenting on Grenfell Tower, she said: “Residents and firefighters were placed in impossible conditions we had never experienced before.

“That is why I am calling for the government to reverse more than 20 years of neglect in relation to fire safety and to undertake urgent research on ‘buildings that fail’, which means ‘stay put’ advice is no longer viable in those buildings.”

Buildings ‘fail’ when they do not react to fire as they should, making it harder for firefighters to tackle the emergency.

Ms Cotton said getting people out of buildings not designed for evacuation was “at best challenging and at worst sometimes impossible”.

The Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross, said Ms Cotton’s appeal was “vital” in the wake of Grenfell. She said: “Just as the residents were let down, and in some cases tragically lost their lives or their loved ones, because of the failings of the building, the brigade itself was let down by decades of neglect on fire safety.

“Firefighters quite simply should never have been in the position of having to deal with a fire at Grenfell Tower in the first place.” A Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government spokesperson said government was “taking urgent action” to ensure that Grenfell fire is never repeated.

He said: “We welcome London Fire Brigade publishing an internal investigation of its handling of the Grenfell Tower fire and will examine the findings carefully.”