Grenfell: Stop Using the Emergency Services as a Scapegoat

Grenfell Tribute | Source: ChiralJon / flickr.com

Political unrest in Britain is currently at its peak – Brexit is in shambles, knife crime offences were reported at a rate of over 40,000 in 2018, and Theresa May’s main concern with student climate change marches was the fact they were missing school. That’s right Theresa, you keep the kids learning about Pythagoras to take their mind off the fact that the world is burning. Whilst you’re at it, you might as well cut school budgets even further than you already have. If there’s ever going to be a time for political satire, the time is now. However, if the government is good at one thing, it’s blaming others for their dire mistakes. And who’s an easy scapegoat that are already oppressed enough by the government? The emergency services.

The police service has already seen a drop of 22,000 officers since 2010 due to government cuts, making coping with the demands of crime exceptionally difficult. The NHS has seen endless struggles in the last ten years, and, most shamefully, the government expects the service to cut £22 billion by 2020 when the NHS can barely cope with the measly government funding they currently get. The vanishing podiatry service has caused people to retreat to private healthcare along with 137 avoidable amputation cases caused by this. Those struggling the most financially are even being denied basic pain relief and treatment. It’s easy to blame those involved in the services. However, the reality is that it is those working for the public sector that try the best that they can to keep up with the demands using the restricted resources they have – and this is all down to the government who make the cuts in the first place.

How about the Fire Brigade and Grenfell Tower? To put this into perspective, the fire service has seen 40 station closures over 2018, and since 2010 nearly 12,000 firefighters’ jobs have been lost due to Tory cuts. In other words, the lack of firefighters means there aren’t enough to cover the stations. We rely on the fire services in most emergencies and road accidents, and they seem to be falling apart due to government cuts.

On the 14th June 2017, Grenfell Tower in Kensington, West London, caught alight in the early hours of the morning. It rapidly spread to an entire inferno. 15 fire engines were sent to the site by 1:28am. However, despite efforts from the emergency services, the tragedy saw the tower being destroyed, and 72 lives lost. Many blamed the fire brigade for not doing enough.

Let’s take a closer look at what the fire brigade was faced to deal with – the engine pumps were attached to the dry risers of the building. However, doing this for each of the 20 floors of the tower was not only beyond the capacity of the system but also impossible due to how quickly the fire had spread. The fire engine ladders could only reach the tenth floor, and breathing apparatus was also limited. The building had a solitary central staircase, already built within walls with polyethylene cladding, an extremely combustible material. Hoses were needed for the tenth floor, but this was difficult without knowing the toxicity of the smoke already inside the building. One of the main rules within the fire service is that those above where the fire is situated have to stay put until the fire beneath is put out. When it comes to the fire of Grenfell Tower, not only was the fire spreading so quickly, but the building’s dangerously combustible cladding meant it was beyond the fire service’s regulations to enter, along with equipment that couldn’t meet the demands of the inferno they faced.

Now let’s look at the council – when the tower was being built, someone would have had to ensure the building underwent safety procedures to ensure it was safe to stand and maintain itself.  Someone also would have had to verify that it was safe, despite the major safety hazards of the tower’s interior. As mentioned, the building was cladded with polystyrene, a material that is incredibly dangerous, but cheaper and lazier to use. Using this material saved the council £300,000. Therefore, in Kensington, arguably one of the most affluent areas of London, why on Earth was there not more money put into the work of the building to ensure that those living there would be safe? Most shamefully, tests were carried out on the tower in 2014 and 2015, yet nothing was changed despite talks of changing the cladding to zinc, a much safer option. So lives were lost, all for a cheaper way out.

No arrests have been made within the council or government involved, despite there being an agreement that the building was safe with this material. To top this off, the council bosses responsible for Grenfell Tower received bonuses of over £90,000 in the year after the incident, and those working in housing at the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea received a bonus of over £100,000 between them. So if the money is there, why are there still residents of Grenfell Tower that haven’t been re-homed? Meanwhile, the fire service has been faced with forced public apologies for not saving enough people and a Channel 4 documentary aired criticising their methods. Conveniently, the Tories can sit back and relax, even knowing that they are the ones who made the cuts to the fire service restricting their resources in the first place, along with the council involved in the safety procedures of the tower. Artist Stormzy even referenced the lack of government care toward the incident during his Brit Awards performance of 2018. This is an issue that won’t go quietly.

Here’s the message I want to leave you with – always read deeper. It may be convenient to blame your doctors, fire brigade, police, and paramedics for either not arriving quickly enough to an emergency or not doing the job efficiently enough. You may tut at how long you have to wait for a doctor’s appointment, or you may be outraged at the increase in knife-related crime. But the truth is that it’s the emergency services and public sector that are left to pick up the pieces of their restricted resources due to a lack of government funding, and frankly, a lack of care towards the services that help make Britain great. There are those not taking responsibility, and the emergency services are simply being used as a scapegoat for corruption. It isn’t on, and Britain deserves better.

All thoughts are with the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

 

 

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