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Grenfell Tower fire chief ‘had no training on evacuating buildings’

7:40 pm, 25th June 2018

Michael Dowden told an inquiry that he had not been trained on the evacuation of residents with mobility difficulties or on how to change the survival advice given by call operators.

He was not able to recognise the signs of a cladding fire or to spot that a fire was likely to spread beyond its flat of origin, he said.

Expert reports submitted to the Inquiry said that if Grenfell residents had evacuated soon after the fire started, the death toll may have been lower.

Instead the tower’s “stay put” policy remained in place even as the blaze spread far beyond the flat where it started, and by the time residents were told to flee their homes at 2.47am it was too late to get out.

Mr Dowden was the first incident commander on the scene when the blaze was reported just after midnight on 14 June 2017.

In a written statement to the inquiry he said he saw the fire “sparking and spitting” like magnesium in a way that made him feel “uncomfortable”, and said the Grenfell fire was beyond his “comfort zone” as an incident commander.

During a long morning of questioning, lead counsel Richard Millet QC showed Mr Dowden national guidance advising that incident commanders should understand when evacuating a building with a stay put policy might be appropriate.

Mr Dowden said he was not familiar with the policy.

It also emerged that the plan of the building likely to have been used during the blaze, which included details on floor numbers and tenants, dated back to October 2009, before the building was refurbished.

It stated that there were only 20 floors on the building, rather than the 23 floor after the refit.

Guidance issued by the London Fire Brigade in July 2016 stressed the “need to understand what products are being used in the facade system and their fire behaviour”, but Mr Dowden said he was not aware of it.

Mr Dowden is one of seven members of the London Fire Brigade to give evidence in the Grenfell Tower Inquiry, which is gathering information on the fire that killed 72 people last year.

He will continue giving evidence at 9.30am on Tuesday.