A firefighters’ union has told the government to rethink its decision to reject a key recommendation from the Grenfell inquiry that would ensure disabled people could safely evacuate high-rise blocks of flats in emergencies.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the Home Office’s decision to reject the recommendation from the first phase of the Grenfell Tower Inquiry was a “negative, backward step” and would put disabled people’s safety at risk.
Disabled campaigners this week welcomed the union’s support for disabled residents of high-rise buildings.
The inquiry recommended that owners and managers of high-rise residential buildings should be legally required to prepare a personal emergency evacuation plan (PEEP) for all residents who may find it difficult to “self-evacuate”.
But the Home Office concluded last month that such laws would cost too much, and would not be safe or practical, even though the government had promised to accept all of the recommendations made by the inquiry’s first phase.
Instead, it is consulting on its own “alternative package” of measures, which it calls Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing, which do not go as far as PEEPs and which will only apply to the minority of buildings that have been assessed as being “at higher risk”.
Residents of other flats, including disabled residents, will have to continue with the current “stay put” policy, which means staying in their flat if there is a fire in another flat in the building, as long as the heat or smoke is not affecting them.
Now FBU’s general secretary, Matt Wrack, has written to fire minister Lord [Stephen] Greenhalgh to demand that the government thinks again on PEEPs.
He told the minister that the government had stated that implementation of the recommendation would involve significant issues with practicality, proportionality and safety.
He said: “The FBU argues that resident safety is paramount, so there is a greater safety issue in declining to implement PEEPs.
“As for proportionality, the Inquiry has found the introduction of PEEPs to be a proportionate strategy, and the FBU agrees.”
The letter comes almost five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster, in which 72 people lost their lives, including 15 of its 37 disabled residents, on the night of 14 June 2017.
Appalled activists have already called for disabled-led organisations and allies to organise a campaign of opposition to the government’s PEEPs decision.
Sarah Rennie, co-founder of the disabled-led leaseholder action group Claddag, said: “We are really pleased to see the FBU express support for the disabled community.
“This reflects a trend we’ve witnessed over the last year, that stakeholders, experts and service-providers firmly believe that evacuations plans must be put in place for people who need them.
“The government’s U-turn is out of step.”
Wrack said in the letter that the inquiry had called for PEEPs because the advice for high-rise residents to “stay put” in their flat can “fail” if there is a “total building failure”, as happened with Grenfell.
Wrack added: “Some reasons given for the refusal seem poorly evidenced, for example stating that if a PEEP advised the purchase of an evacuation chair, there would be an ‘impact on the good relations between disabled residents and non-disabled residents if disproportionate costs were passed on to the latter’.”
Wrack told Lord Greenhalgh that building owners should carry these costs, rather than tenants.
The union’s response to a government consultation on the PEEPs recommendation, which ended last year, said there no “authoritative policies and procedures for mass evacuation and rescue from fire” at the time of the Grenfell fire.
The response added: “Four years on, there is still no definitive guidance on the evacuation and rescue process.
“Any future policies should be safe for residents and firefighters, with no more shortcuts or compromises.”
Wreck told the minister in the letter that his government’s decision on PEEPs was a “negative, backward step, and the FBU stands with disability campaigners, the Grenfell campaign groups and the [Local Government Association] in asking you to reconsider.”
A Home Office spokesperson said, in response to the FBU letter: “Our fire reforms will go further than ever before to protect vulnerable people as we are determined to improve the safety of residents whose ability to self-evacuate may be compromised.
“That is why we have launched a new public consultation seeking views on an alternative package of initiatives, building on the information garnered from the Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans consultation, that enhance the safety of those residents.”
Picture: Close-up of Grenfell Tower with banners in June 2018 (c) by Carcharoth is licensed under Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 4.0 International
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