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Cllr Joe Carlebach is the Leader of the Conservative Group of Hammersmith and Fulham Council.

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the terrible fire at Kings Cross Underground station where 31 people perished and 100 were injured as a result of a fire caused by a discarded cigarette. Hard for us to believe in this day and age that smoking was actually allowed on the underground, but in those days it was common place.

I have vivid memories of the Kings Cross disaster. In November 1987 I was a young Personnel Manager working in the the Staff and Industrial Relations Office at London Underground. I was asked to attend the disaster site less than 24 hours after the fire was eventually extinguished to check on staff and to render any help needed to the emergency services on site.

As the months progressed into 1988, I was also involved in setting up and resourcing the internal investigation into the fire. Specifically how was it that so many people perished and suffered such horrendous injuries in what had previously been thought to have been one of the safest transit systems in the world?

One of the very hard learned lesson to come out of the Public Enquiry was that it was the impact of a total systems failure which ultimately lead to the scale of the tragedy. It was not just the careless casting aside of a cigarette on a wooden escalator; it was the way the fire then spread, unchecked, as a result of the structure and curvature of the space around the escalator.

I left the Underground some months afterwards to take a job in the private sector, where I spent the rest of my career, but the impact and scale of the disaster at Kings Cross has stayed with me since then and is likely to for the rest of my days. The eerie image of people moving around a deserted and badly charred underground station in white anti-contamination suits is both shocking and impossible for me to forget.

Fast forward 30 years to 14th June 2017 and we all sat around watching the disaster unfold at Grenfell Tower, where we are now told that at least 71 people lost their lives and 74 were hospitalised, with 20 having to be treated in intensive care. With my young family at home, I watched the smoke billow into the air from Grenfell which is 1.9 miles away.

I immediately offered my assistance to do whatever I could to help and I wrote about my experiences here.

Once again we had to witness the appalling consequences of a devastating fire that ripped through lives, destroying and injuring many. The shocking loss and the devastation of so much. I am not going to predict the detailed outcomes of the inquiry into Grenfell as that would be both inappropriate and insensitive. However, what is very clear is that there are a great many lessons to be learnt from Grenfell, and I suspect some of them will bear a striking resemblance to the lessons identified after Kings Cross.

Primarily I believe it will be the need to look beyond the individual pieces of the tragedy and look at how all the different components interacted. How these components unknowingly conspired to cause the shocking loss of life, amplifying the disaster and its consequences. There is also the need to look at the co-ordination and effectiveness of the response to the disaster, again not as individual pieces but as a system with the victims at the centre.

These two disasters remembered together, today, should act as a seminal moment for us to recognise the need to look at the compelling requirement for a whole system approach with people at the centre. For me this is not just limited to the prevention of large scale tragedies but across all aspects of Government both locally and nationally.

This applies to both structures and services. The time has come for us to recognise the importance and the need for the universality of this approach and in doing so to have a significant and measurable positive impact on those we are here to serve, the people.

The victims of Kings Cross and Grenfell all paid a very high price for lessons we can not afford not to learn. My thoughts and prayers are with them and their families today and always.

19 comments for: Joe Carlebach: From the Kings Cross fire to the Grenfell Tower disaster – a personal perspective

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