The Grenfell Tower Fire: Benign Neglect and the Road to Avoidable Tragedy

Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor

Everybody is aware of the tragic events of the early hours of July 14th, 2017, and many words have been written, but none as insightful as this book.

The authors, Tony Prosser and Mark Taylor are both retired Senior Officers form the West Midlands Fire Service, England’s second biggest Metropolitan brigade, and have a wealth of experience in fighting fires of all types and sizes. They now run a successful business, Artemis Training and Development, training Fire Officers across England and Wales in all levels of Command and Control before assessing and awarding National Skills for Justice qualifications to successful candidates.

Given their experience it is not surprising that this Forensic examination of the incident is so well evidenced.

The book doesn’t just take a look at the fire. As the title suggests it looks at the timeline of events that should have predicted such a fire would take place. It looks at previous incidents which highlighted the factors which led to the fires in high rise blocks spreading beyond the compartments which were designed to confine them.

By looking at the history of Social Housing, Fire Safety in Domestic Dwellings, Building Regulations and the introduction of the Regulatory Reform Act, the book plots the timeline of the domino effect, which ultimately led to the final domino tumbling on that July night in 2017.

Before looking at the incident the authors look at the training of those who had to fight it. Not the individual personnel on the fireground that night, but the national collective. This incident could have happened in any City in the UK, and so the national requirements of Firefighter recruitment, progression training, professional qualifications, and the roles carried out in the rank structure of the modern Fire Service, are all looked at in a factual and unbiased way.

The book looks at the effect the Baine Report of 2002 had on the structure of the Fire Service in England and Wales and how that has influenced the weight and speed of response to incidents attended by the Fire Service.

To help to understand the way the fire spread, and why so many failings in the structure contributed to the speed and development of it, there is a section devoted to the Construction of high-rise Buildings, and the fire safety measures employed in them. 

Another chapter is devoted to high-rise firefighting, the problems encountered by fire crews and the procedures they should carry out.

This allows the reader to have some insight into what the fire crews expected at a fire in a domestic property within a high-rise building, and how they would approach the incident under what, up till that night, had been usual circumstances.

At the beginning of the chapter that looks at the incident, the authors describe how they have attempted to portray the events by saying,

“We have therefore attempted to consider the fire service’s operations of that night in the context of what was happening in the UK FRS as a whole, and from the perspective of a competent, reasonably well- informed UK Firefighter”

Something they have achieved in a way that all readers will find explains the actions of the Fire Crews in a matter of fact manner, using data and evidence which was supplied to Phase One of the Public Enquiry.

The Public Inquiry did not take into consideration what any reasonably, and well-informed firefighter would have done on that night. Prosser and Taylor have, they have interviewed Fire Officers and discussed the incident, unsurprisingly the majority of experienced Officer spoken to state that they would have made many of the same decisions, especially surrounding the evacuation policies.

The book is a time line. The first chapters of the book look at significant events before the fire in Grenfell Tower, including Fire Service training and procedures. It then looks at the incident. But perhaps the most significant chapters are the final ones entitled Aftermath, Inquires and the Blame Game and finally A Brave New World. 

These chapters look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of the fire. How different agencies and companies reacted to the incident.

They look at Phase One of the Inquiry and the outcome of the recommendations on the Fire Service.

Anybody who understands Fire Safety Legislation, will be aware of the phrase “after the horse has bolted” and its used in the book to show how things changed after some landmark incidents. Will there be a Brave New World? Or will industry and legislation just wait for the next Grenfell.

The final chapter considers the landscape in which public services operate, and what impact any changes could have on the way they prevent and respond to large scale emergencies.

It is not many, if any, “industry” books that I have read from cover-to-cover, but this one I did.

In my opinion this book should be on every fire station in the country. Prosser and Taylor have put together a well-reasoned, unbiased book, which sets out the path to Grenfell.

This is not a book which looks to apportion blame, or dissolve blame by looking for mitigating circumstances. It lays out what happened, why it happened, and why those firefighters that fought the fire acted in the way they did.

For none Fire Service readers it will explain the expectations a firefighter had of how the fire should have developed, and explains the tactics used by the crews on the scene.

There is nobody that cannot learn something from reading this book.

Pages: 390

Publisher: Pavilion Publishing and Media.

Author: nkadams999

An avid reader since I was young and have always found time for books through, two marriages (one still current), the raising of a beautiful daughter, who's now a lovely young woman, a short (5 year) career as a seaman, a long (30 year) career as a Firefighter- Officer/Arson Investigator, and latterly as a Lecturer, on Fire forensics and all things Fire related.

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