Two months ago, the phase one report of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry made stinging criticisms of the London Fire Brigade’s response on the night of 14 June 2017. Experienced officers in charge of fighting the fire were found to have had no training in the dangers associated with combustible cladding or how and when to conduct an evacuation. Some “basic information” about the tower itself was either wrong or completely missing. The “stay put” strategy was stuck to despite early indications that it was failing.
Today, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) has issued a report on the LFB, which says it needs to get better at protecting the public through fire regulation and responding to fire and other emergencies. The head of the Inspectorate, Matt Parr, says it is “worrying” that the LFB’s operational policies and procedures don’t fully reflect national guidance “even for risk-critical areas such as incident command”, especially as this is related to keeping the competence of incident commanders up to date. Parr says this weakness requires “immediate attention”.
The LFB’s commissioner at the time of Grenfell, Dany Cotton, was accused in the Grenfell Inquiry report of “remarkable insensitivity” by saying she would have done nothing differently. Cotton is now on her way out, bringing forward her planned resignation by four months.
Although Parr says the LFB is good at preventing fires and understanding fire risks, he found its weaknesses exist despite being a “well-resourced brigade”. He acknowledges that “many lessons” have been learned since Grenfell, but says the LFB has been “slow to implement the changes needed, which is typical of the brigade’s approach to organisational change.”
Parr also says it “doesn’t have regular assessments of command skills, which limits its ability to assure itself that all incident commanders have maintained their competence”. He continues:
“Incident commanders may occasionally be presented with a situation that is extremely unusual and not reasonably foreseeable. In this circumstance, they may have to make decisions using their professional judgment, which is referred to as operational discretion…
The brigade policy does allow commanders to adapt or deviate from operational policy when necessary, in line with national operational guidance. However, while staff understand this policy, only six cases were reported in two years, which is strikingly low. Because of these low returns, the brigade acknowledged in July 2018 that the declaration and recording of operational discretion needed to improve.
We were told that organisational culture inhibits commanders from using operational discretion. Incident commanders aren’t confident that the brigade would support them in using operational discretion. Moreover, not all staff feel that the tone of the brigade’s post-incident debrief meetings, which review such decisions, supports a learning environment.”
Dany Cotton’s successor, Andy Roe, starts the job in January. The Inspector also found the LFB to improve how it spends its money and how it looks after its staff. Rose has a lot of work to do.
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