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

8:54 pm, 25th June 2018

Michael Dowden told the inquiry into the fire that he had not been trained on the evacuation of buildings with a “stay put” policy, in evacuating residents with mobility difficulties, or on how to change the survival advice given by call operators.

He was also unable to spot the signs of a cladding fire or a fire spreading beyond its flat of origin.

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.

During a long morning of questioning, he was shown national guidance advising that incident commanders should understand when evacuating a building with a stay put policy might be necessary.

Mr Dowden said he was not familiar with the guidance, saying: “I can’t remember any time that I had been on a training course that could facilitate that”.

He agreed with inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick that his training focused on “what the policy contained” but that he was “not trained in how to implement it”.

It also emerged that the plan of the building likely 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 floors after the refit.

Mr Dowden also said he was unaware of guidance, issued by the London Fire Brigade in July 2016, that stressed the “need to understand what products are being used in the facade system” and how they would behave during the fire.

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.

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 on Tuesday morning.