So far at least, the Grenfell Inquiry, Hackitt Review and independent experts panel has done very little dot-joining. Pretty much every subject is treated as if separate. For example, while cladding has been massively focussed on, no one has looked at the links between it and furniture, carpets, curtains, bedding. One such link being that they are all fuel sources; another that they often contain flame retardant chemicals. With the Grenfell residents currently very concerned about how their health has been affected by the toxicity of the fire, and given that when flame retardant chemicals burn they massively increase toxic fumes/smoke, you would have thought this was an obvious step to take. Yet instead we get the government and the council so far failing to even look for toxicity in soil, debris, human blood, etc, claiming (apparently clairvoyantly) that they do not need to because toxicity is 'low'.
There is a group of us working on joining the dots, however. And for the purposes of this blog I thought I'd give just one example. Below, to this end, I've put together some facts and quotes, along with a few background points that may or may not be relevant. In short, I'll lay down some dots and leave it to the reader to join them, or not. Please bear in mind that these are just a few of the dots within the overall picture, one that is shaping much of what goes on, or doesn't, at the Grenfell Inquiry.
- From 2008 until earlier this year, Dave Sibert was the National Fire Safety Advisor and IRMP Advisor to the Fire Brigades Union, a paid role that came with an FBU credit card.
- Around May 2018, Sibert was forced to resign from this post, although this has not been publicly announced by the FBU. Here's what Sibert himself says about it in an article dated 7 September 2018:
"THERE IS supposed to be an ancient Chinese curse, which reads: ‘May you live in interesting times’. After the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower last year, those of us in the fire industry have certainly been ‘living in interesting times’. The curse appeared to point its crooked finger at me when I was forced to resign from my previous job, although in the end resignation gave me the opportunity to take up the challenging – but very rewarding – role of head of the special projects group (SPG) at the FPA [Fire Protection Association]."
- Sibert was given this new paid post at the FPA by Jon O'Neill, Managing Director of the Fire Protection Association.
- The FPA is funded by the insurance industry. The insurance industry is preoccupied with protecting property from fire. The flame retardant industry claims its products do so.
- UK homes have the highest levels of flame retardant dust in the world, the main reason being our unique and very stringent furniture flammability regulations.
- In 2014, the FPA signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the US's National Fire Protection Association.
- The NFPA consistently supports the flame retardant industry in first trying to block then to overturn the decision by California to drop its open flame furniture test in 2014 – which meant that flame retardant chemicals were no longer necessary in California/US furniture. For example, also in 2014, the NFPA supported a lawsuit by one of the big three world-wide flame retardant producers, Chemtura, against the state of California, insisting on the retention of the open flame test which would lead to the retention of millions of kgs of flame retardants in US furniture.
- In 2014/2015, Dave Sibert, Jon O'Neil, Paul Fuller and Sir Ken Knight played a major role, working together, to block safety changes to the UK's furniture regulations that would have led to a massive drop in flame retardants in cover fabrics. For example, in 2014, Dave Sibert wrote the FBU's response to the government's proposal to make the furniture regulations safe. It was entirely negative albeit with absolutely no evidence by way of support. This contrasted sharply with the many very positive returns from individual fire services, including the London Fire Brigade who applauded the proposals that would make furniture fire-safer and made some useful suggestions for other improvements.
- Sibert, O'Neil, Fuller and Knight, however, succeeded and such safety changes are still pending. In the meantime, UK furniture continues to contain the highest levels of flame retardants in the world.
- Paul Fuller resigned his post in May 2018 as Chair of the Fire Sector Federation after just a year, "for a variety of reasons", at the same time as Sibert was forced to resign his post at the FBU.
- Paul Fuller requested an invitation to a British Standards meeting in 2015 to discuss what to do about flammable children's fancy dress outfits. He opened his introductory talk by stating, "I'm not here today to advocate for flame retardants in children's clothing . . . "
- As can be seen elsewhere on this blog, in late 2017, I publicly challenged the four people named above to explain why they had not done the extra work they'd talked a Minister into agreeing to on the furniture regs' new match/open flame test, with the result that UK furniture remains stuffed with flame retardants and is not fire-safe. None of them answered.
- Following the Grenfell fire, Dave Sibert and the FBU were often quoted in the press, strongly in support of the Stay Put policy, right up until March this year; for example:
'Fire Brigades Union safety expert David Sibert has said: “The principle that tower blocks are built on is that every flat is a fire-resisting box, every flat is completely surrounded by fire-resisting construction from the rest of the building. So you should be able to set fire to your own flat and leave it to completely burn out and it won’t affect anybody else in the building.”' Guardian, 12 July 2017
'Dave Sibert, the Fire Brigades Union’s fire safety adviser and chairman of a national committee on fire safety standards, told the newspaper that if the "stay put" advice was not in place during the incident, some of the 60-plus people saved may have been injured or worse if they were fleeing the building.' The Sun, 25 May 2018
'We do not agree that firefighters on the ground had concluded within 10 minutes that nobody should stay in their flats to await rescue. We simply do not know the evidence at this stage. There is no evidence that we are aware of so far that any such policy was scrapped within 10 minutes. We are aware that residents were actually rescued from their flats until very late into the incident.' FBU press release 25 May, 2018
- However, Sibert appears to have now changed his view or at least to have moderated it. From a slide presentation he made around July this year:
3.58 STAY PUT STRATEGY
STRATEGY NORMALLY ADOPTED IN BLOCKS OF FLATS AND MAISONETTES WHEREBY, WHEN A FIRE OCCURS IN A FLAT OR MAISONETTE, THE OCCUPANTS OF THAT DWELLING EVACUATE, BUT OCCUPANTS OF ALL OTHER DWELLINGS CAN SAFELY REMAIN IN THEIR DWELLINGS UNLESS DIRECTLY AFFECTED BY HEAT AND SMOKE OR DIRECTED TO LEAVE BY THE FIRE AND RESCUE SERVICE
SOURCE: BS 9991
There is a contradiction here with his earlier statements to the press, i.e. the standard BS 9991 says the Stay Put policy should 'normally' be adopted, whereas Sibert had earlier insisted it applies to 'every flat'.
The standard goes on to say that people should stay put (if the fire is in another flat) unless directly affected by heat or smoke. Again, Sibert earlier is very clear that you must stay put whatever, even stating that any flat that is on fire can completely burn out and it 'won't affect anybody else in the building'.
He appears to be using the standard to set up his change of direction since later in the presentation he states:
- IN A POORLY BUILT HIGH RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING, A STAY PUT EVACUATION STRATEGY SHOULD NOT BE PUT IN PLACE. AND
- WHEN FIRE SPREADS THROUGH A POORLY BUILT HIGH RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING, A STAY PUT EVACUATION STRATEGY DISAPPEARS. NONE OF IT CAN BE APPLIED.
Neither of these two points was made by him before. But they nicely backwards-cover the emerging evidence at Grenfell, i.e. that 'stay put no matter what' was the wrong policy.
Then he comes up with a statement that contradicts his new view but which is perhaps intended to exonerate his previous view:
WHEN FIRE SPREADS THROUGH A POORLY BUILT HIGH RISE RESIDENTIAL BUILDING, FIREFIGHTERS MAY HAVE TO SAY TO RESIDENTS STAY WHERE YOU ARE, WE WILL DO OUR BEST TO RESCUE YOU
'May' is probably significant here in that it creates wriggle room for him. But to repeat his earlier post-Grenfell view:
"[Sibert] told the newspaper that if the "stay put" advice was not in place during the incident, some of the 60-plus people saved may have been injured or worse if they were fleeing the building."
He's very clearly stating that more people would have died at Grenfell if they had not stayed put and instead tried to flee the building. Yet everyone, including the FBU, always knew that Grenfell Tower was a 'poorly built high rise residential building' of which Sibert now says a stay put policy cannot 'be applied'. Back to 'may' again.
I'll end with another of Sibert's slides which pretty much sums up the massive contradictions between Sibert's earlier and later views on Stay Put:
Two ‘classes’ of high rise residential building
- THOSE WITH THE FULL PACKAGE OF FIRE SAFETY SYSTEMS WHERE STAY PUT EVACUATION IS SUITABLE.
- THOSE WITH SERIOUS FAILINGS IN THEIR FIRE SAFETY SYSTEMS WHERE STAY PUT EVACUATION IS NOT SUITABLE.
- There are buildings where the stay put evacuation strategy is inappropriate.
- This [sic] NOT because there is anything wrong with the stay put strategy.
- It IS because there are buildings out there with inadequate fire precautions and fire safety systems.
- The flame retardant industry has a history of funding/bribing fire sector officials: proof of this where Bob Graham and Mike Hagen are concerned is in the public domain. It's an open secret within the fire sector that there are other currently serving officials taking money from the FR industry.