Deaths Foretold at Grenfell Tower: Let This Be The Moment We The People Say “No More” to the Greed That Killed Residents

16.6.17

Grenfell Tower in west London photographed on the afternoon of June 14, 2017 after being destroyed in an inferno (Photo: Andy Worthington).

Please sign the 38 Degrees petition to the government urging them to “improve fire safety in tower blocks to make sure the tragedy in Grenfell Tower is never repeated,” which, by Saturday morning, had over 155,000 signatures.

I’ve been preoccupied since Wednesday by the terrible loss of life in the inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London, by how it was preventable and should never have happened, and, most shockingly of all, by how was foretold, in explicit detail, by tenants who published their fears and warnings on a blog, but were ignored by the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council, and by the management company responsible for their homes, Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation.

On November 20, 2016, under a photo of a tower block on fire and the heading, ‘KCTMO – Playing with fire!’, a representative of the Grenfell Action Group wrote, “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord, the  KCTMO, and bring an end to the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders. We believe that the KCTMO are an evil, unprincipled, mini-mafia who have no business to be charged with the responsibility of  looking after the every day management of large scale social housing estates and that their sordid collusion with the RBKC Council is a recipe for a future major disaster.”

The author of the post also stated, “Unfortunately, the Grenfell Action Group have reached the conclusion that only an incident that results in serious loss of life of KCTMO residents will allow the external scrutiny to occur that will shine a light on the practices that characterise the malign governance of this non-functioning organisation.”

A screenshot of the Grenfell Action Group blog post from November 2016, presently and chillingly entitled, 'KCTMO – Playing with fire!'It was also stated, “It is our conviction that a serious fire in a tower block or similar high density residential property is the most likely reason that those who wield power at the KCTMO will be found out and brought to justice!”

The article also pointed out, “We have blogged many times on the subject of fire safety at Grenfell Tower and we believe that these investigations will become part of damning evidence of the poor safety record of the KCTMO should a fire affect any other of their properties and cause the loss of life that we are predicting.”

There is much more in the blog post — and in other posts dating back to 2013 — to demonstrate the repeated and persistent dereliction of duty on the part of the KCTMO regarding the safety of tenants, and it is important that these problems are not allowed to be swept under the carpet by the government, as happened with the recommendations that followed the last major London tower block fire, at Lakanal House in Camberwell, in 2009, when six people died.

The Grenfell Tower inferno, however, was like nothing anyone in London has seen before, and in seeking to understand it, it is clear that the problem is much bigger than the personal responsibility of KCTMO — although that shouldn’t let the management company evade their specific responsibilities, of course.

Insanely flammable cladding

Shockingly, Grenfell Tower had recently been refurbished, at a cost of £8.6m — much of which was spent on aluminium cladding — and yet it seems that the cladding played a major part in turning the block into an inferno.

The Guardian reported that the cladding — made of aluminium composite material (ACM) — was manufactured by Omnis Exteriors, and John Cowley, a director of the company, confirmed that Omnis had been asked by the design and build team not to supply Reynobond FR cladding (the “FR” stand for “fire resistant”) but to supply Reynobond PE cladding, which has a polyethylene core and is flammable, but is £2 cheaper per square metre.

The Guardian reported how much more stringent safety standards are in Germany and the US:

German construction companies have been banned from using plastic-filled cladding, such as Reynobond PE, on towers more than 22 metres high since the 1980s when regulations were brought in to improve fire safety at residential blocks.

Concerns that the panels could exacerbate the spread of fires led authorities to allow them only on buildings that can be reached by the fire brigade using fully-extended ladders from the ground. Taller buildings require panels with a more fire-resistant core and separate staircases for people to use if evacuation becomes necessary.

Frankfurt’s fire chief, Reinhard Ries, said he was appalled at the fire at Grenfell Tower and said tighter fire-safety rules for tower blocks in Germany meant that a similar incident could not happen there. US building codes also restrict the use of metal-composite panels without flame-retardant cores on buildings above 15 metres.

The Guardian also stated:

Berlin’s fire chief, Wilfried Gräfling, said the London fire made it clear that fire regulations should be tightened further with only mineral materials used in cladding panels. “We will try to persuade lawmakers that flammable material should no longer be allowed to be used as an insulant,” he told Der Spiegel. “Only mineral material that can’t burn, ensuring that it’s no longer possible for a fire to spread via the cladding.”

As the Guardian also noted, “The speed at which the fire spread at Grenfell Tower has led to intense speculation that external cladding panels made from aluminium sheets with a flammable polyethylene core may have fuelled the fire that tore through the block in the early hours of Wednesday morning. But the investigation into the tragedy will look at scores of other factors that could have contributed to the blaze, including the proper installation of fire barriers between the cladding on each floor and any holes left after the recent refurbishment through which fire could have spread.”

Terrifyingly, the Guardian’s report also stated, “In the UK there are no regulations requiring the use of fire-retardant material in cladding used on the exterior of tower blocks and schools. But the Fire Protection Association (FPA), an industry body, has been pushing for years for the government to make it a statutory requirement for local authorities and companies to use only fire-retardant material. Jim Glocking, technical director of the FPA, said it had ‘lobbied long and hard’ for building regulations on the issue to be tightened, but nothing had happened.”

Greed and neo-liberalism

Whilst it is deeply shocking that flammable cladding can legally be used in the UK, and difficult to imagine that it did not play a major part in Wednesday’s disaster, it also needs to be asked why it was used — and on this question, I believe, we open a can of worms which, over and over, reveals the greed of those responsible for housing, from politicians to developers, who, in pursuit of ever greater profits, and with the added constraints of the climate of austerity generated since 2010 by the Tories themselves, for nakedly ideological reasons, have sacrificed the safety of tenants in a manner that is unacceptable — and about which they cannot possibly claim ignorance.

As the media began looking at the causes of the Grenfell fire, they also came across other shocking omissions regarding the safety of tenants in tower blocks — of which the most alarming must be the fact that older tower blocks do not, by law, need to have sprinkler systems fitted. As the BBC explained, “Under current law, all new residential blocks over 30m high must have sprinkler systems fitted,’ but there is “no legal requirement for local authorities to retrofit sprinklers to tower blocks.”

Ronnie King, honorary administrative secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fire Safety and Rescue and a former Chief Fire Officer, told LBC Radio that there were “about 4,000 tower blocks that did not have fire sprinklers fitted.” He explained that, after the fire in Lakanal House, “there had been a ‘recommendation, which was down to each local council and landlords to determine the appropriateness’ regarding fitting sprinklers in some blocks.” He added that the coroner in the inquest into the fire “also recommended that the government encouraged providers of high-rise building to consider the retrofitting of sprinkler systems,” but none of this was made legally binding, reinforcing the conclusion that politicians — seduced by neoliberalism and greed — were not interested in regulating the building industry in an appropriate manner.

Providing proof, the Daily Mirror dug up a shameful comment by a former Tory housing minister, Brandon Lewis, who “warned MPs against beefing up fire safety regulations, because it could discourage house building.” Lewis “admitted automatic sprinklers save lives, but said it was not the government’s responsibility to encourage developers to fit them.” The Mirror also pointed out that “successive ministers had ‘sat on’ evidence that suggested thousands of tower blocks” like Grenfell Tower “were vulnerable to fire,” citing the coroner’s report after the Lakanal House fire, which “recommended building regulations be updated, and called for developers refurbishing high-rise blocks to be encouraged to install sprinkler systems.”

However, at a 2014 Westminster Hall debate — marking, of all things, Fire Sprinklers Week — Lewis told MPs, “We believe that it is the responsibility of the fire industry, rather than the Government, to market fire sprinkler systems effectively and to encourage their wider installation.” He added, as the Mirror put it, that “the Tory government had committed to being the first to reduce regulations nationwide, pledging a one in-two out rule.”

As he stated — heartlessly, it must be noted, “The cost of fitting a fire sprinkler system may affect house building — something we want to encourage — so we must wait to see what impact that regulation has.”

Eight years on from the Lakanal House fire, the recommendations languished on the desk of housing minister Gavin Barwell, who did nothing about them. Ironically, Barwell lost his Croydon seat in last week’s General Election, but was then made Theresa May’s chief of staff, although he is now refusing to answer any questions about his actions. As GQ’s political correspondent Rupert Myers explained in an article today, bluntly and surprisingly entitled, ‘How Much Do We F**king Hate Gavin Barwell?’, “His inaction looks increasingly likely to have cost the lives of people trapped in a tower block as it filled with smoke and flames. For the sake of those lost in the inferno, and for their families, Mr. Barwell must stop hiding and face the press.”

For the Tories, the Grenfell Tower disaster is toxic. On Wednesday, Theresa May dealt what may have been an even bigger blow to her credibility than her dismal performance in the General Election by visiting the site but refusing to talk to survivors. In contrast, Jeremy Corbyn visited and met with survivors and showed empathy and true leadership. And it helps, moreover, that he is not tainted by the Blair years of New Labour, when, more or less, the same greed and neoliberal enthusiasm that is a dominant Tory trait also infected the Labour Party.

Coming just days after Theresa May’s disastrous election, when she lost her majority and, I believe, fatally wounded her credibility, and, I hope, that of her party too, the Grenfell disaster needs a response uncontaminated by the aloofness and hypocrisy of those who have connived for years with the exploiters of those living in social housing in general, and, in terms of safety, tower blocks in particular.

And that response, I believe, needs to be from a leader who cares about the less fortunate members on society, not just the rich, and who is as sick of austerity, neoliberalism and greed as the rest of us. It seems to me that Jeremy Corbyn is that person, and I hope that we will soon be rid of the Tories and will have an opportunity to see what Britain looks like with a government that places people’s needs before the profits of the few, rather than the other way round.

It is time for ‘Peak Greed’, the neo-liberal system of endless and ever-increasing exploitation and profiteering, to be brought to an end, before any more people die for someone else’s profits.

Note: Please also read ‘Look at Grenfell Tower and see the terrible price of Britain’s inequality’ by Lynsey Hanley, the author of Estates: an Intimate History, in the Guardian.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album ‘Love and War’ and EP ‘Fighting Injustice’ are available here to download or on CD via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the Close Guantánamo campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

28 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article, in which I assess the horrendous inferno that engulfed Grenfell Tower in west London on Wednesday, leaving, to date, 30 dead and more than 70 missing, drawing in particular on a chillingly prescient blog post from November 2016 by a member of the Grenfell Action Group warning that a disaster like this would happen. While the specific management company cannot be allowed to evade accountability for their responsibility, I also focus on how the disaster is, in addition, a symptom of a deregulated housing market, with no requirement for sprinklers in older tower blocks, for example, despite their installation being recommended by experts after the last tower block fatalities in Camberwell in 2009. Fundamentally, this terrible and preventable disaster shows how imperative it is for us to finally stop the unfettered greed and neo-liberal obsession with profits above people’s needs that have been creating an ever more divided Britain – with an ever-greater gulf between the rich and poor – since the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    The Guardian reports that “[a]t least 20 tower blocks across the capital, ranging from 11 to 23 storeys, are believed to have the same cladding used at Grenfell, according to Construction Enquirer, a trade publication,” as fire safety experts call for a ban on the use of combustible materials in high-rise buildings in the UK: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/16/experts-urge-ban-on-use-of-combustible-materials-in-tower-blocks

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    A worrying response to the disaster may well be calls for tower blocks to be demolished, which, whether inadvertently or not, will continue to play into the hands of the rapacious developers, politicians – at national and local level – and landlords who aren’t interested in responsible refurbishment. For a detailed analysis, please check out this article by the excellent Architects for Social Housing (ASH): https://architectsforsocialhousing.wordpress.com/2017/06/11/11-myths-about-londons-housing-crisis/

    Opening line: “One of the greatest obstacles to coming up with sustainable solutions to the housing crisis is that almost everything said about the crisis by the people charged with solving it – knowingly or otherwise – is wrong.”

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Here’s the Guardian’s latest reporting, including the widespread protests on Kensington and Chelsea and in central London: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/live/2017/jun/16/grenfell-tower-fire-london-police-criminal-investigation-into-tragedy-latest-updates

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    And on the domestic political front, Theresa May finally tried to make up for failing to talk to survivors on her first visit by visiting again and private meeting some local people, but as ITV’s Royal Editor Chris Ship noted on Twitter while posting a clip of her getting booed, “Does this look like a Prime Minister in control? They are 17 seconds which sum up her week”: https://twitter.com/chrisshipitv/status/875809902991732740

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    This is very sad, but worthwhile – the website of the talented young photographer Khadijah Saye, who died in the fire: http://www.sayephotography.co.uk/about

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    This is also worth watching – Ishmahil Blagrove, writer and film-maker, telling the media some home truths: https://twitter.com/Fi_Rutherford/status/875332304633200641

  8. Tom Pettinger says...

    I genuinely can’t see how we can get past this mentality where corporations are happy to keep tiny amounts of profit at a huge increase of risking human lives, or our politicians can shirk responsibilities like they have. It’s like they literally don’t care. We spend billions and billions – the US on its own has spent wayyyyy over a trillion dollars since 9/11 – on “countering and preventing extremism” in our countries to save tens / hundreds of lives, but small fixes like these just go completely ignored.

    I’ve been researching on this topic recently: after 9/11 the US decided to enhance airport security at the expense of £100-150 billion, which pushed some would-be flyers to drive small distances instead – causing over 1200 extra road-deaths from Sep 2001 till Feb 2005 (with all other variables taken out – so enhanced US airport security caused all of these deaths).

    At the end of the day, governance is how politicians spend our money to protect us, and they’ve consistently done a horrendous job, and focussed on pumping trillions into utterly minuscule threats and ignored much larger threats like Grenfell Tower, road accidents, drug-related deaths etc etc etc. On a similar note, I was morbidly humoured when I was in London last week by the fact that they’ve now installed barriers on Westminster Bridge. Why not all the other pavements in London? If somebody’s determined to drive into pedestrians, they’ll just drive round the corner; barriers on Westminster Bridge is going to save no lives.

    And I can’t see how we can challenge our governments until success on these things, or the mentality of profit, or their disregard for poor humans/ foreigners/ those in Guantanamo and so on. It’s obscene!

  9. Tom Pettinger says...

    *Theresa May will presumably fix these problems so she doesn’t look like even more of a tool. But it’ll be such a narrow approach, just on these types of flats. There are so many other ways they’ve been cutting corners. The NHS as a prime example, and it’ll come back to bite us when patients start to die in vast numbers from infections and waiting times and all the rest!

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    A couple of points I missed, which also contribute to our necessary understanding of the government’s contempt for public services and for people who aren’t rich – firstly, cuts to fire services, which have made their incredibly necessary job more difficult, and secondly, the 72 MPs who voted against a proposed law to make sure that all private landlords ensure their homes are “fit for human habitation.” It’s amazing how many Tory MPs are also private landlords and have contempt for tenants. Some of this can be found in Sue Jones’ latest article: https://kittysjones.wordpress.com/2017/06/16/grenfell-is-a-horrific-consequence-of-a-conservative-leaner-and-more-efficient-state/

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your thoughts, Tom. Interesting research into the road deaths caused as a knock-on effect of increased airport security.
    Road deaths in general remain scandalously unreported when it comes to threats to our lives, because, of course, politicians know that you can’t criticise people’s car use – and they have no interest in educating people to try to get them to drive less.
    The barriers on Westminster Bridge are the classic keene-jerk response. I always reflect, after a disaster, how the response seems to me to make no sense. Say you have a coach crash; then everyone shuns coaches for a while, even though there doesn’t seem to be any likelihood that there would be another coach crash.
    As for the big change you talk about – that’s what we’re seeing discussed, at least, after seven years of austerity and racism and the absurd manufacture of the EU as a hideous bogeyman. I have had hope since the General Election and Jeremy Corbyn’s significant increase in the share of the votes, when before that hope was really rather elusive …

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, we’ll no doubt see some specific and narrow fixes, as you mention, Tom, while the big picture remains out of focus.
    I simply don’t understand with the NHS how the Tories think they can get away with wrecking it through chronic underinvestment allied with extensive privatisation, but then again it was one of the issues motivating people at the election, when they turned to Jeremy Corbyn and away from austerity, so perhaps people are finally noticing in big enough numbers to puncture the obsessive and myopic destructiveness that the Tories have been undertaking for seven long years now.

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    Charmaine Dolan wrote:

    Andy I mentioned Thatcher the fricking biatch in one of my posts or comments this week.
    In the context of free speech meaning it’s vanished since her reign.
    One reply I got was we havent really had free speech in this country for thousands of years. Even Magna Carta didn’t give us that.
    And yes it’s certainly true.
    During my studies and even before from a young age, I knew this, but after the devastation this week, I thought all the crap from authorities official government etc surely freedom will win.
    I tried to remain optimistic.
    To no avail.
    RIP to those who lost their lives in that multi.
    Condolences to their families and friends.
    And much appreciation to all the people who went there to help, to support, who donated, who shared posts on here from people on the ground that msm wouldn’t report, the local churches, mosques, other places of worship who opened their doors to many when needed.
    Horrendous situation 😥😔

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for your heartfelt assessment, Charmaine. Hard to disagree. I think from the post-war Labour government until Thatcher we had a voice, but it’s been taken away from us since then along with our dignity and our ability to insist that we all count – not just the rich, but every one of us.
    The difference I felt acutely when the Tories got back into power in 2010 was that for the first time in my life – explicitly – the government said that they had no interest in even pretending to care for those at the bottom of society, financially, and I’ve found it to be true in their refusal to accept that people are enemployed because of the capitalist system, and not through any fault of their own, in their relentless pursuit of the disabled, and their efforts to kill off as many disabled people as possible, and now in this deathtrap scenario in west London, a nightmare that they and previous politicians created. We really need to keep working to find a way to have another election, and to get Jeremy Corbyn into No. 10, to see if, instead of being a backwards-looking, right-wing basket case of a nation, we can get back to embracing a vision of socialism instead.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    More links of interest, I hope. This is David Collins, the former chair of the Grenfell Tower residents’ association, speaking of the “vacuum of accountability” in the management organisation. However, I imagine, sadly, that the official analysis and exposure of this will take years, as governments seem incapable of a swift response and swift condemnation in the event of disasters. That said, I think pressure should be exerted. The management organisation is responsible for around 10,000 properties, the whole of Kensington and Chelsea Council’s stock, and it seems obvious that they should have that role taken away from them as swiftly as possible.
    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/15/former-grenfell-tower-resident-demands-independent-inquiry-into-fire

  16. Andy Worthington says...

    And here’s more about Khadijah Saye, the artist who died in Grenfell Tower: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/17/khadija-saye-artist-was-on-cusp-of-recognition-when-she-died-in-grenfell

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Beverley Martin wrote:

    Andy that is honestly the most brilliant article I’ve read on this so far. The credulous comments I keep seeing berating the ‘politicising’ of Grenfell make me want to shake people awake.
    I note the Mail has published the most disgusting op. ed. this morning accusing “the hard left” of “spinning a narrative” and concludes “Yes, there are devastating questions for officials, contractors, councillors and ministers to answer about Grenfell Tower. But to exploit this tragedy in order to foment division is not only an affront to British democracy but a betrayal of the victims themselves.”
    The pre-existing division – NOT fomented by examining the background to this terrible event – was already at the very heart of it all. To suggest the victims are being betrayed unless we sit by passively and don’t even attempt to demand answers as to how this was allowed to happen is completely sickening.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Beverley. Yes, we must refuse to allow ourselves to be silenced. In the Grenfell neighbourhood, such a stance by politicians and by right-wing newspapers and commentators can only make people more and more angry, as it is so patently an effort to depoliticise a disaster whose existence was and is intensely political.
    Moreover, around the country those living in the 4,000 other tower blocks, anyone in social housing (that includes me and my family) and anyone with sympathy or empathy for those who are not mortgage holders needs to unite to make it clear to the government and the media that this is an extreme example of what happens when greed poisons every aspect of our society, but that it is entirely typical.
    All but the very rich cannot afford to buy a house in London now, private rents are out of control and completely unregulated – and private landlords are completely unrestrained in how they treat their tenants, and largely unrestrained regarding the condition of their properties – and yet those in social housing, which, for the most part, is actually affordable for ordinary workers, are treated as pariahs, and constantly told that it should only be made available to the most wretchedly poor people in society. We need to stand up and demand that it should be much more widely available, that we need a massive, not-for-profit social homebuilding programme, and that social tenants must stop being treated as second-class citizens, ripe for exploration, and, whenever politically useful, for denigration.
    Are we honestly supposed to think that the government or the right-wing media cares about the people who died in Grenfell Tower? Because, to be frank, they don’t.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    Beverley Martin wrote:

    We also need to keep up the pressure for an inquest as opposed to an inquiry. The egregious IA2005 was rushed through parliament on the last possible day before it was dissolved, April 7th 2005, and came into force on June 7th 2005. It put paid to any notions of independent inquiries, giving ministers powers to exclude the public from all or part of an inquiry, to control publication of the final report, to restrict the publication of documents, to insist on the omission of crucial evidence from the final report “in the public interest”, and even to sack the chairman or a member of the inquiry panel. (https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2005/apr/21/northernireland.northernireland1)
    It’s an appalling piece of legislation, allowing governments and their agencies to essentially investigate their own failings with total control over the entire process.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that information, Beverley. I hope the tenants in the Grenfell neighbourhood will be encouraged to push for nothing less than an inquest.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s a 38 Degrees petition, calling for “An Inquest NOT a Public Inquiry for the Grenfell Tower Fires,” which currently has over 15,000 signatures: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/an-inquest-not-a-public-inquiry-for-the-grenfell-tower-fires

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    There’s a heartbreaking list here of some of those confirmed dead – and the missing: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jun/14/missing-victims-grenfell-tower-fire

  23. Christian says...

    With all due respect to the good work 38 Degrees have done – in order to trigger a discussion in Parliament, a petition demanding an inquest rather than a public enquiry needs to go up on the Parliament website once the Petition Committee is functional again.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that information, Christian.

  25. arcticredriver says...

    Andy, this is a very sad story, thanks for covering it for us.

    I sit on a committee in my building that responds to fire alarms, meets firefighters, when they arrive, hands over our master keys, and related small tasks. My building is about 8 years newer than the Grenfell Towers complex, and I was very surprised to hear that building was not required to have a public address system, or a building-wide alarm system.

    Retrofitting a building that doesn’t have one, with a PA system, a sensor system, is expensive. There is something very inexpensive to check, that all your readers can do to improve their fire safety.

    When the door to the hallway of the first apartment to have a fire is left ajar by fleeing residents, the draft allows that unit to burn up much more quickly. When the door is left ajar by fleeing residents smoke escaping from that unit allows blinding, choking toxic fumes to spread to the hallways.

    Our building code required the door into apartment to have a door closing mechanism. Our building had been equipped with them. Unfortunately, these mechanisms had annoyed people, or movers. They were easy to disable, and something like a third, or more had been disabled.

    The building code required these outer doors to be able to keep a fire contained, for something like half an hour. It can keep a fire from spreading from a burning apartment for half an hour. And it can keep a hot fumes in your hallway from spreading into your apartment, for half an hour.

    I made a fuss about it, and the door closers started being annually checked, and they have all been re-enabled.

    If you look for it, you can learn about when fatal fires which could have been contained, spread, when the door closer had been disabled in an apartment that was the first to have a fire.

    There was an alarming case, here in Toronto, where a man who had too much to drink had fallen asleep while smoking a cigarette. Smoke from the fire his cigarette started woke him. He escaped without injury. But he left his apartment door ajar, blinding, choking smoke filled his hallway and his neighbours died.

    Actor Macaulay Culkin comes from a large family. He’d already moved out, but that apartment the rest of his family shared had a disabled door closer. They too had a fire, fled their burning apartment, leaving the door ajar. And neighbours of theirs died due to their failure to close their door.

    We have heard rumours a resident of the Grenfell Towers had their refrigerator spontaneously burst into flames. I am sure that would be terrifying. We may learn that he left his door ajar when he fled his apartment. If his automatic door closer was disabled, he may not have been the one who disabled it.

    No one should let my advice prevent them for lobbying for better building codes, better inspections. But everyone can easily check and confirm that the door closer on their apartment door is still functional. It is a very important piece of safety equipment. If yours has been disabled, you may be able to get it working properly again, by yourself, without any special tools.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for that advice, arcticredriver. I hope it is something that people will take on board.

  27. Tom says...

    The latest that I’ve heard on this? First, the residents who’ve lost everything are getting on average 10 pounds a day to “cover” all of their expenses? No govt. help in organizing an effective relief effort. Second, these people will be penalized if they refuse to move to anywhere the govt. tells them to. They’ll be labelled as “permanently homeless”.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Tom,
    My understanding is that, after many days with no support whatsoever, those made homeless have been given £500 by the government, with £5000 following.
    I also heard those rumours about people being required to be rehoused wherever they were offered – even outside the borough – or they would be declared to have made themselves “intentionally homeless”, but the authorities have been working hard to reassure people recently that it’s not the case. I suspect they are under a lot of unexpected scrutiny, and have worked out that their usual ploy – of sweeping undesirables out of town – isn’t going to be possible.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo, co-director, We Stand With Shaker. Also, singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers) and photographer.
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CD: Love and War

Love and War by The Four Fathers

The Guantánamo Files book cover

The Guantánamo Files

The Battle of the Beanfield book cover

The Battle of the Beanfield

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion book cover

Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion

Outside The Law DVD cover

Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo

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