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Grenfell Tower design made evacuation impossible

Grenfell Tower fire

The way Grenfell Tower was designed and constructed made evacuation impossible, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) told the inquiry.

The single staircase, which was the only escape route, also had to be used by firefighters as there was not a working firefighting lift to reach the upper floors of the 24-storey building, Stephen Walsh QC said. 

It comes after Arup’s leader of fire safety engineering Dr Barbara Lane questioned why the fire brigade took so long to abandon the Stay Put policy in her report released on Monday. 

Responding to claims that the brigade should have staged a full evacuation of high-rise block, Walsh said: “The building was not designed or constructed to facilitate such evacuation through the provision of fire alarms or other mechanisms that might have formed a fire strategy put in place by the building owner.”

He said the “absence of any practical mechanism by which to effectively communicate with the occupants of the entire building, the availability of a single staircase as an escape route which was also the only means by which firefighters, wearing breathing apparatus, carrying firefighting media and other equipment could access the upper floors in the absence of a working firefighting lift [prevented an evacuation].” 

The fire service could develop a policy that assumes similar high-rise buildings are inherently unsafe following refurbishment, Walsh said.

LFB has been criticised by survivors and experts for sticking to the Stay Put policy, which advises residents to remain in their flats and is reliant on the fire being contained.

Lane’s report found that the rainscreen cladding added during the 2016 refurbishment was so flammable that the Stay Put strategy should have been completely abandoned at least an hour before the building was evacuated.

There was an “early need for total evacuation of Grenfell Tower […] I am unclear about the basis for delaying the formal end of the Stay Put strategy between 01:40 and 02:47. I am particularly concerned by the delay from 02:06 when a major incident was declared, to 02:47,” Lane wrote.

Meanwhile, inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick is expected to back urgent recommendations – likely to include a ban on combustible cladding – before the Phase One report is published in November.

Lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millet QC revealed interim recommendations are being considered, although added any endorsement is unlikely before the Phase One factual and expert evidence hearings have finished in October.

“There is a broad measure of agreement among core participants…for you to make urgent recommendations as soon as possible,” he said.

“We will accordingly continue to give very careful consideration to the possibility of interim recommendations, and at a time earlier than the publication of the Phase One report.”

A combustible cladding ban could be issued after Michael Mansfield QC, representing the survivors, told the inquiry it is “of A1 importance” that combustible materials are outlawed and asked for a ban to be recommended this summer.

Dame Judith Hackitt, chair of the Hackitt review into building regulations, attracted criticism for not recommending a ban on combustible cladding in her final report published last month.

A government consultation on banning combustible cladding is currently underway.

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