Cllr Brian Coleman, Conservative member of the London Assembly and Chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority replies to yesterday's article about the Southwark fire.
I was very disappointed to read the piece that implied that there has been considerable public anger at the performance of the Fire Brigade and the Fire Brigade Union has supported an inquiry as "no one is ever beyond criticism."
I could say more, at another time, about the motivation of the militant and entirely uncooperative Fire Brigades Union in this matter, their leadership make Bob Crow seem moderate ,but for the time being I am happy that, like me, they have been outraged at some of the media coverage of the Brigade's response. Indeed, Matt Wrack, their General Secretary, appeared on the news last night and carefully explained that he was supporting the claim for an inquiry so that it could be put beyond doubt that firefighters responded magnificently.
I am disappointed that you rely on some of the negative media coverage when you could as easily have chosen the Evening Standard report: "40 lives saved in tower block inferno" for example. Perhaps you will allow me to make your readers aware of some key facts:
- Firefighters were at the scene within 3 minutes of being called. There was no delay in getting fire engines to the incident and firefighters took immediate action as soon as they arrived. Crews worked under very difficult and hazardous circumstances to reach people trapped in the building as soon as they were able to.
- There have been some confusing suggestions made about fire engine ladders not being long enough and this is not correct. Ladders were used where appropriate, but they are not used to put out fires above nine floors. Even if we had such ladders in the United Kingdom we would not get them through London's streets anyway .Fire engineering solutions are part of the design of all high rise buildings. These systems worked properly, as did the hard wired smoke alarms fitted in each property. Firefighters reported that these were sounding as they dealt with the fire.
- The Sun reported that crews were ordered back from the fire because of a burst gas main and also made suggestions made that firefighters couldn't rescue people because of health and safety rules. This is completely wrong. Firefighters worked in incredibly difficult circumstances and did all they could at every opportunity to get to those trapped. Saving 40 lives. It is probably the most inaccurate piece of journalism I have seen In the "Sun" since their coverage of the Hillsborough disaster, quoting unnamed fire-fighters who were not even apparently present at the incident.
Obviously the fashionable media witch-hunt against anyone in the public sector , whether Politician ,social worker or Police Officer (G20) is now extending to fire-fighters.
You make a far better point that we should all be concerned about the safety and future of tower blocks.
New builds and refurbishments of existing blocks of flats are subject to the fire safety requirements of building regulations. These regulations are enforced by Local Authority building control departments or by approved inspectors. With projects like Thames Gateway we have the opportunity to install state of the art domestic sprinklers.
Those responsible for buildings like high rise flats are required by law to carry out a fire risk assessment and take appropriate measures to minimise the risk of fire and implement general fire precautions to protect people in the premises if a fire occurs and as the regulatory authority on these matters for London we shall be ensuring that Southwark Council complied with all relevant legislation. I encourage all elected Councillors to ask their officers if fire risk assessments are in place for all Council or ALMO blocks in their authority .