Grenfell Tower inquiry scrutinises firefighter training for ‘stay-put’ blocks
The firefighter who led the initial response said he could not remember specific training on evacuating buildings with such a policy.
The firefighter who led the initial response to the Grenfell Tower fire has told an inquiry he received no training on evacuating tall buildings with a stay-put policy.
Michael Dowden, the watch manager with North Kensington red watch, was the first incident commander on the scene when the inferno began on June 14 2017.
It is feared that the London Fire Brigade’s failure to abandon stay-put advice to residents for nearly two hours could have contributed to the death toll.
Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry into the blaze, took Mr Dowden through national policy guidance and asked him if he had specific training on certain points.
Mr Dowden said he was not aware of the document’s existence.
As an incident commander I cannot remember any time I have actually been on a training course that would facilitate that Michael Dowden
One included: “Incident commanders should understand when a partial or full evacuation strategy might become necessary in a residential building where a stay-put policy is normally in place.”
Asked if, as an incident commander, he had received such training, Mr Dowden replied after a long pause: “As an incident commander I cannot remember any time I have actually been on a training course that would facilitate that.”
Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick asked: “Did anyone give you any help or advice in understanding when it might be necessary to have a full evacuation, things to look out for, or was it just down to your personal experience?”
He replied: “I don’t think I’ve had any input from any individual, the only way I could relate to that is reference back to our internal high-rise policy, particularly around when compartmentation fails etc, but I don’t think I’ve been in a training environment when that’s been referenced.”
Mr Millett asked if it would be fair to say that training was “a lot about what the policy contained but you weren’t trained in how to implement it”, Mr Dowden replied: “I would say that is a fair comment.”
Mr Millett asked the firefighter: “Mr Dowden, did you ever receive training on the evacuation of people from the upper floors of high-rise buildings who may have mobility difficulties?”
Mr Dowden responded: “Not on the practical application but more theory-based.”
Mr Dowden’s training record was then brought on to the screen, showing several sessions he led on tackling high-rise blazes in previous years.
He was listed as a “lecturer”, but said the contents of his lessons were never checked by supervisors or superiors, only auditors who visited occasionally.
Mr Millett asked him: “How could you know that the lectures that you were giving to your firefighters about high-rise firefighting were effective?”
He replied: “I suppose the only way that I could ever really do that is to see how they apply themselves on the fireground.”
The inquiry lawyer said: “Leaving it to the fireground of an actual incident? Might that not be a bit late?”
“I suppose, yes,” replied the fire officer.
Many victims of the Grenfell Tower fire were elderly, some with mobility issues, who lived on the top floors of the block.
He added that practical training for tackling fire on high-rise buildings was hard because few such buildings were available to use for practice scenarios.
The watch manager also conceded that he had not received specific training on the early warning signs of a building’s compartmentation failing.
Most high-rise towers are designed so a fire is contained within the flat of origin, which failed to happen at Grenfell Tower.
Mr Dowden said: “My only reference to that is in terms of me would be before I was an officer when I was receiving training by officers, referring it back to relevant policy.”
Asked about whether he had received training about how building materials could contribute to fire spread, he said “It is difficult to say”, adding that information was often given by responsible persons during visits to the high-rise properties.