Saturday, 8 July 2017

Grenfell Tower: Fire Appliances

In his tireless search for the killer revelation that will set an angry mob on a path to storm Downing Street, lynch Theresa May and sweep Labour to power, The Mayor of London,  Mr Sadiq Khan, has seized on the fact that the 67metre "Aerial" platform needed at the scene of the Grenfell Tower fire arrived late, "because it belongs to Surrey Fire Brigade and had to come from 'outside London.'" (A place which none of the metropolitan elite can actually visualise.) He has demanded an immediate investigation into this arrangement, obviously thinking that it must be due to recent "austerity" measures that can be blamed on the government in power.

Medawar thinks that if this matter is investigated, fully and truthfully, rather than simply stopping with the procurement of the existing appliance, it will be found that this arrangement goes back decades, perhaps even to the nineteen seventies when high rise buildings such as Grenfell Tower were being built. Far more commercial high rises have been built in London in the last ten years than were built back then, so the need for such appliances is probably greater than it once was, but to return to the reason why London Fire Brigade does not own the appliance which seems key to fighting fires in tall buildings, many of which are in London:

Medawar saw a predecessor of the same appliance, being demonstrated on a children's TV programme, and it, too, was owned by Surrey Fire Brigade. Medawar stopped watching children's TV in the nineteen seventies...

At the time, the Fire Brigade, like the government, was still adjusting to the existence of what seemed like lots of high rise buildings (still nothing compared to what there is today!) and the Home Office advice to fire brigades struggling to purchase very expensive pieces of capital equipment, which they might not use very often, was to share them between adjacent brigades, basing them in a position where they could get to the largest possible number of different target buildings (in this case, high rises) as quickly as possible. I think that the children's TV programme actually said that the appliance could get to large parts of London faster from Surrey than it would have done had it been based in the middle of London.

Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have a number of specialist vehicles, including an aerial platform (not as high reaching as the Surrey one, but suitable for the tower blocks found in Bedfordshire and neighbouring counties) and these are based at Kempston, sited for a quick scramble onto the A6, M1, A421, A428 etc. In parts of Hertfordshire, Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire, it will be this equipment that arrives at a fire, if the controller actually calls for it. In other parts of Hertfordshire, it may be equipment from Cambridgeshire or Surrey that arrives, but only if the controller asks for it! The main factor behind the Aerial Platform being late at Grenfell Tower was that the controller's checklist didn't include asking for it on initial reports of a fire in a high-rise building. This has already been changed, as an obvious management error.

Formal and informal arrangements to pool key resources and provide mutual support are part and parcel of how the fire service in the UK actually works on a daily basis, and it is becoming painfully obvious that the people who want to run the country have no clue that this is so. The "culprits" they need to look for are Roy Jenkins and Merlyn Rees, Home Secretaries in the relevant period, both Labour, and just possibly Reginald Maudlin, Conservative. During the seventies, Home Secretaries were struggling with a fire service nationally that hadn't really been properly organised since the second world war, and there were still tiny private fire brigades belonging to local factories, dotted all over the country. 

Most of the pooling and sharing arrangements still in force, actually go back to those reforms, although they may have been "renewed" more recently, allowing spin doctors to claim they are actually recent. 

It is also worth noting that a 67 metre Aerial Platform is a very large vehicle indeed and access roads around Grenfell Tower, and quite a lot of other high rise buildings, are restricted and awkward. If Mr Khan wants vehicles like this to be based in Central London, he's going to have to find a few billion pounds to reconfigure the road network.

No comments: