London firefighters are spending over 4,000 hours per month visiting high rise blocks where fire safety failings have resulted in ‘Stay Put’ advice being suspended. Labour’s London Assembly Fire and Resilience Spokesperson, Andrew Dismore AM, who obtained these figures from a series of written questions to the Mayor, said that the Government’s “dither and delay” over removing dangerous cladding from tower blocks is leading to the London Fire Brigade (LFB) becoming a “free building safety service for tower block owners”.
High rise blocks of flats are designed to stop the spread of fire between apartments, which is the basis of the “Stay Put” advice. In March, the LFB identified that in 120 tower blocks, Stay Put was suspended because each building was still wrapped in Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) cladding, like that used on the Grenfell Tower.
In March, another 166 towers had the Stay Put policy revoked due to other factors such as compartmentation failures or the presence of other types of dangerous cladding, such as high-pressure laminates.
As of June, the advice in 274 tower blocks in the capital is now for all households to simultaneously evacuate in the event of a fire instead.
The LFB is currently dispatching a fire engine and a crew of between four and six firefighters to check these buildings twice a month while Stay Put advice is suspended.
The building checks, including the follow-up work for both visits, take two to four hours to complete on average.
This comes despite the Government’s previous pledge to strip ACM from tower blocks by June 2020, in the wake of the Grenfell tragedy three years ago.
The Mayor of London’s Budget guidance for 2020/2021 shows that in the absence of additional Government funding, the LFB will need to make £25 million of savings over the coming years due to the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.
Labour’s London Assembly Fire and Resilience Spokesperson, Andrew Dismore AM, said:
“The Government’s dither and delay in stripping dangerous cladding from high rises is contributing to the London Fire Brigade becoming a free building safety service for tower block owners.
“Keeping Londoners safe will always be the top priority, but providing this service takes time that could be used for other important duties such as training exercises and conducting smoke alarm checks.
“If the Government is going to require the Brigade to pick up the slack from its stalling building safety programme, it should allocate the necessary extra funding and resources.
“Firefighters have stepped up during the Covid-19 outbreak, from driving ambulances and fitting masks to delivering supplies in the community. However, the fallout from the pandemic is also due to have a huge impact on the Brigade’s finances.
“The Government must get its act together over cladding remediation and properly invest in our emergency services”