London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the largest brigade in the UK by the number of firefighters and staff. LFB is responsible for responding to fires, emergencies, and hazards within the built environment. Firefighters need to be equipped to respond effectively and safely. This is a crucial issue for firefighters across the UK.
Several factors contribute to the risks of fire in high-rise buildings. These factors include the risk of compartmentation failure, uncontrolled internal and external fire spread, and the potential for a large-scale evacuation of residents. In the event of an emergency, firefighters need to make difficult decisions to reduce the risk and save lives.
LFB has consulted with the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on changes to the high-rise firefighting policy. The FBU is concerned that the policy changes will increase the risk to firefighters. The FBU also considers that the policy would breach their duties under the 1974 Act. In particular, the FBU has concerns about paragraphs 6.3 and 6.30 of the policy.
Currently, there are over 500 residential buildings in London that have simultaneous evacuation procedures. The number of residential buildings with waking watches has increased from 350 at the beginning of 2020. However, over 200 buildings in the capital have been identified as having compartmentation issues and are at risk of uncontrolled internal and external fire spread.
Firefighters are currently working in several high-rise buildings in London. These include Grenfell Tower, where the fire was catastrophic. During the Grenfell Tower fire, firefighters were sent to the tower to investigate the cause of the fire. The fire broke out on the 24th floor of Grenfell Tower and was caused by a gas explosion. The fire killed 72 people, and a full inquiry is currently being carried out by the Westminster government. This inquiry is committed to justice for the victims of the fire.
The FBU considers that the policy would be inappropriate in the context of the Grenfell Tower fire and that the proposed policy would increase the risk of firefighters rescuing residents of high-rise buildings. The FBU considers that the proposal would breach its duties under the 1974 Act and that there is no evidence to support the proposal. Consequently, the FBU considers that LFB should not proceed with this policy change until the other national bodies have completed their work and endorsed the proposal.
In response to the FBU's concerns, LFB has retracted the section of the draft policy that lobbies and fire brigades are able to send firefighters beyond the bridgehead without starting up their breathing apparatus. In March 2021, LFB made significant changes to the policy, removing the wording in paragraph 6.30 and reverting to the original formulation. However, there are still serious concerns that the proposed policy will increase the risk of firefighters rescuing residents in high-rise buildings. The LFB should immediately scrap the unsafe procedure of sending firefighters beyond the bridgehead without starting up their firefighting media.
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