The Grenfell Tower Inquiry went into recess on August 2nd and resumes again on September 3rd. The latest evidence and testimony has only served to raise more questions than it has answered while we wait for the Inquiry to resume and hopefully deliver answers to the many lingering questions.
Dr. Barbara Lane, one of the experts commissioned by the Inquiry, said in her testimony. “I am particularly concerned about the maintenance regime of the active and passive fire protection measures,” and “I note that multiple automatic systems such as the control of the fire lift and the smoke ventilation system, appear not to have operated as required.”
Fire safety experts who gave testimony at the inquiry stated that there was “a culture of non-compliance” at the tower. Major contributing factors to the scale of disaster were 100 non-compliant fire doors, a non-functional ventilation system, a firefighting lift ‘that didn’t work’ and a ‘stay put’ policy which ‘totally failed’.
The Tenant Management Organisation, which was responsible for the management of Grenfell Tower, replaced 106 flat entrance fire doors in 2011. According to Dr. Lane, none of the doors on any of the flats, including 14 which were not replaced, were compliant with fire test standards used at the time of installation. Dr. Lane commented that it “would have materially affected the ability or willingness of occupants to escape independently through this space to the stair”.
Firefighters commended and scrutinized
As they commenced battling the blaze Firefighters discovered the building had a dry riser, rather than a wet riser, a mandatory requisite for buildings more than 50 metres high. This meant high-pressure water could not reach the top of the building. A ‘dry riser’ is an empty pipe which can be connected to a pressurized water source by firefighters. A ‘wet riser’ on the other hand is a system which is permanently charged with water and ready for use in an emergency.
Charles Batterbee, one of the first Firefighters, described it as “a war zone”. He and other veteran firefighters fought back intense emotions as they tried to explain the harrowing experiences they had come face-to -face with on the night.
The LFB was praised for their incredible bravery as well as heavily scrutinized for their ‘stay put’ strategy, and lack of knowledge on the combustibility of cladding systems.
A merry-go-round of buck-passing
Arconic, the company which provided the cladding panels, said that while the core material in the panels was “obviously combustible”, the panels were “at most a contributing factor” to the fire. It claimed no one would have died if the uPVC windows had been built with greater fire protection. It also stated that it was also up to purchasers to decide if its panels could be “safely and appropriately used.”
“We submit that the evidence does not justify the conclusion that the cladding panels supplied by the company were anything other than, at most, a contributing feature to the fire,” it said. “The panels did not render inevitable the catastrophe which ensued.”
It said it was not the firm’s responsibility to ensure products were used in line with building regulations and that “at relevant times there was no legal bar to the use of combustible materials within a cladding system”.
During the proceedings Counsel Richard Millett QC warned organisations involved not to “indulge in a merry-go-round of buck-passing”.
Dr. Barbara Lane concluded Arconic’s product Reynobond 55PE, “contributed to the most rapid of the observed external fire spread” and the cladding system, including the insulation, was “substantially to blame for the tragedy”. Professor Luke Bisby, a consultant to the inquiry, had said they were the primary cause of fire spreading across the building.