Our thoughts and deepest sympathies remain with the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire and with everyone affected by the tragedy.
Today (30 Oct 2019), the report from Phase I of the inquiry into the fire has been published. We will, with colleagues nationwide, be reading and considering the document in detail in the days to come.
The National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) has published a response to the report, which you can read here. We continue to work closely with the NFCC, supporting its post-Grenfell work in shaping the future safety of buildings and their residents.
Our fire safety protection work includes auditing high-risk buildings, including residential high-rises, to ensure public safety whilst also providing public reassurance about the risks of fire.
Late last year our Fire Authority approved £600,000 to enable us to increase the number of fire safety officers we employ. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services rates our work in this area as ‘good’. Following the Grenfell tragedy, we immediately identified buildings with flammable cladding, worked closely with the ‘responsible persons’ for those buildings, and supported the Government on behalf of the NFCC in the national co-ordination of the checking of high-rise premises and the cladding materials.
Our policies and tactics for tackling fires in residential high-rise buildings are under constant review and strengthened whenever there is opportunity.
Fires in high-rise blocks are among the most challenging and hostile incidents we can expect to deal with. Our fire control teams and firefighters train regularly to be able to respond to such calls within five minutes, then to put their training and skills into action as safely and as effectively as possible.
In 2014 we opened a six-storey high-rise training facility at Oldbury Community Fire Station. The structure is used to help firefighters and incident commanders understand fire behaviour and train in realistic ‘live’ fire, high-rise scenarios.
We stage 104 large-scale exercises a year. These include using empty high-rise buildings to test firefighting, fire survival and evacuation procedures. Colleagues from the other emergency services and local councils have been involved in high-rise exercises.High-rise fires are the top priority in the training and assessments of our incident commanders. We continually review the training materials available to our firefighters – for example, on how to coordinate an evacuation – and a number of our Fire Safety officers are now able to study for qualifications at a higher level than the national minimum standard.
There are nearly 1,000 buildings in the West Midlands with four storeys or more and more than half of them have at least eight storeys. We work closely with the landlords and owners to help them ensure the safety of people who live or work in them.
Our crews and fire safety officers regularly visit high-rise buildings across the West Midlands, to familiarise themselves with how they are built and laid out. They record the information, which can later be accessed via mobile data terminals, to help keep our crews safe as they provide an assertive and effective response at incidents.Our highly-trained Fire Control staff have key roles in our response to fires in high-rise buildings and are integral to the exercises we stage. The regular training enables them to hone their skills handling calls from people who are reporting high-rise fires. Their training has evolved to take account of the learning from Grenfell – for example, how to recognise how occupants can stay safe through giving fire survival guidance.
The relocation of our Fire Control to our headquarters building earlier this year gave us the opportunity to maximise our use of technology to help collate information about callers’ locations, situations and the advice they have been given. In the case of high-rise fires we now also deploy extra fire crews whose sole function is to support and advise incident commanders regarding rescues of people still in their homes and receiving survival guidance from fire control.
Sprinklers are the most effective way to ensure that fires are suppressed or even extinguished before the fire service can arrive. They save lives and reduce injuries, protect firefighters who attend incidents and reduce the amount of damage to both property and the environment from fire.
We’re pleased to see that several West Midlands local authorities will retrofit sprinklers across their high-rise tower blocks. We look forward to hosting a conference next month (November) at which we will seek to encourage a West Midlands-wide approach to fire safety in high-rise buildings.
Birmingham City Council was one of the first authorities to commit to retrofitting sprinklers across its high-rise buildings following the devastating events at Grenfell. At the time, this represented a significant spend of £31m across its 213 tower blocks.
The council has worked closely with West Midlands Fire Service and residents to ensure that all 62,000 council tenants have had the opportunity to ask questions about high-rise safety.