Despite the claims that the fire at Grenfell Tower was “unprecedented”, the facts tend to disproved this assertion. Instead, we find that while the consequences were unusually bad almost all of the issues being raised in the media and the inquiry have occurred at other incidents previously.
If we look at the fire at the Summerland complex in Douglas, Isle of Man in 1973, many of the problems have been repeated during the lead up to the 14th June 2017.
Combustible material used in the structure.
Combustible cladding and insulating materials (Polyethylene and Celotex) were used as a result of changes to specifications at Grenfell. At Summerland, concrete structural members were replaced by plastics and fibreboard sheeting (Galbestos, Decalin and Oroglas). Combustibility of these materials were well known but still accepted and used.
Testing of materials
This was only carried out on a small scale and large-scale structures were not subject to testing.
Stopping was absent or defective in both buildings which allowed uncontrolled and uncontrollable spread of fire across the structure.
The owners of both properties were found to be wanting – at Summerland, existing procedures were not made known to staff and in Grenfell Tower, tenant concerns were ignored.
Both fires were beyond the experiences and expectations of the attending firefighters – At Summerland, every firefighting vehicle on the Isle of Man was used – the fire was extinguished by consuming all combustible materials. At Grenfell, the scale of the fire and the challenges were unprecedented in the UK but not across the globe but only services the size of LFB would have even a fighting chance: in some areas the consequences would be far worse.
Following the enquiry at Summerland, its was said there were no villains and there were no prosecutions for the deaths of 50 men, women and children. The deliberate obfuscation, counter blaming and buck passing between the clients, designers, specifiers, manufacturers, installers, certifiers and inspectors is likely to mean a similar lack of accountability for the tragedy.
Watch this space!