Firefighter who inspected Grenfell Tower admits he didn't look at cladding

Firefighter who inspected Grenfell Tower admits he didn't look at cladding

Monday, June 25, 2018

The firefighter who led the first effort to quell the Grenfell Tower blaze had himself inspected the building during a botched refurbishment.

Michael Dowden visited the west London block in his role as watch commander at North Kensington red watch as work was drawing to an end in February 2016.

He admitted during a grilling at the public inquiry into the disaster that his investigation failed to follow a checklist set out in national policy guidance.

On Monday, lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC asked the firefighter about the visit to Grenfell Tower, and whether he looked at the cladding.

Read more: Petition launched to ban combustible cladding after Grenfell

Plastic materials 'a known risk'

"That was something I didn't look at, I wasn't aware of. And, knowing what I know now, that is certainly something I would have looked at, without a doubt," said Mr Dowden.

He attended a fire at a block in nearby Shepherd's Bush later in 2016 and knew uPVC windows had helped spread the blaze - but did not check Grenfell Tower for them.

Mr Millett asked him: "Would you say your experience as it was in June 2017, the presence of plastic materials around windows was a known risk to you, as an incident commander?"

"Yes, it was a known risk," he replied.

Watch: Grenfell Tower: One Year On documentary

Mr Millett asked: "When you did those kind of visits (to high-rise blocks), was that kind of risk something you would want to look out for on a building that you were visiting?"

The fire officer said: "If I'm going to be honest, it is not something I would go into a building to look for. Maybe that is not the expectation.

"When I was doing familiarisation visits, it was more about the facilities and layout on a high-rise building."

Dry riser not appropriate for tower block

During the 2016 visit he familiarised himself with the dry-rise system used in the building - but failed to notice it was inappropriate for a block so tall.

Read more: Grenfell contractors accused of being 'inhumane' over inquiry silence

Dry rises - a hollow pipe running up a building through which the fire brigade pump water when they arrive to tackle a blaze - should not be used on buildings over 50 metres in height.

Grenfell Tower was 67 metres tall.

Mr Millett asked him if he had ever thought during the visit, "this building exceeds 50 metres, what's it doing with a dry riser?"

"No, I didn't," he replied.

No assessment of evacuation procedure

Read more: 'Stay put' policy failed, report finds

He also said he “cannot recall that I did” assess the evacuation procedures.

It has been suggested previously that victims of the Grenfell fire were unable to understand the nuances of the fire evacuation policy due to a language barrier.

Mr Dowden was then asked if he had heard of Approved Document B, referring to the section of the UK building regulations which specifies what material can be used on the exterior of a building.

"No," the fire officer replied.

Expert Dr Barbara Lane said in a report analysing the fire that the materials used during Grenfell Tower's refurbishment did not comply with Approved Document B.