Grenfell Tower training exercise cancelled days before fire, inquiry told

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A training exercise for the London Fire Brigade was due to take place at Grenfell Tower just days before the deadly fire but was cancelled, an inquiry heard.

Dean Ricketts, a watch manager at North Kensington fire station, carried out a familiarisation visit to Grenfell Tower in late March 2017.

The “complexities of the basement” prompted him to suggest the high-rise as a suitable venue for a training exercise, planned for June 8, less than a week before the deadly fire.

Tower block fire in London
Firefighters lay their helmets on the ground as they observe a minute’s silence near Grenfell Tower (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Asked why the prison exercise took precedence over the high-rise operation, Mr Ricketts replied: “You will have to ask the group manager who cancelled the exercise.”

The aborted training exercise was prompted by a familiarisation visit carried out on March 27 by Mr Ricketts and a north Kensington fire crew.

Flammable cladding ban
Grenfell Tower on fire (Natalie Oxford/PA)

A large number of residents leaving and entering the building at the time of the visit meant the crew were unable to test the controls of the fireman’s lifts within the building, he said.

Mr Ricketts was unable to locate a premises information box, which would contain information useful to the brigade in an emergency including plans to the floors, evacuation strategies and procedures, and instructions on the use of mechanical ventilation systems.

He was also surprised that there was a dry riser system in place, given the extensive renovations recently carried out on the building.

Tower block fire in London
The Grenfell Tower tragedy claimed 72 lives (Victoria Jones/PA)

He also shared with Station Manager Nicholas Davis his query over whether the dry rising main should have been updated, and he was also unsure.

And he agreed the contents of a previous risk assessment which highlighted “non ambulant, visually or hearing impaired and non English speaking occupants” and “hidden voids which may aid fire spread”.

HMP Wormwood Scrubs
An exercise had also been planned for HMP Wormwood Scrubs (Andrew Matthews/PA)

He also did not ask about the building materials used as part of the refurbishment, saying it was important to have faith in the building controls process.

He also did not ask for the total number of residents in the building, saying he took it for granted that the existing number in the ORD was correct.

And he admitted he could have rescheduled the visit for a less busy time to enable the checking of the fire lifts.

He told the inquiry he had been focusing on the basement because it did not seem to have been picked up on previous visits.

Station manager Mr Davis was asked by counsel to the inquiry Andrew Kinnier QC if he could have done more to chase down plans for the building.

Mr Kinnier asked: “Given the importance you’ve attached to plans and given their omission you’ve identified as a deficiency, could you have done more to have chased down those plans at the time given their importance to the tactical plan and other matters?

He replied: “In hindsight, yeah, I think, if I was being brutal. For context, the workload for two stations is quite phenomenal.

“Bearing in mind I knew Grenfell, because I visited myself within my first month of attending, so I was aware of Grenfell. I just didn’t have capacity.

“If I put two and two together then I probably would’ve requested that. Unfortunately, I just didn’t.”

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