Fire union warns government of Grenfell-style risk over weak high-rise evacuation policy

The union representing the overwhelming majority of firefighters has slammed new government guidance on building evacuation, saying that failings have left residents vulnerable to further Grenfell-style tragedies.

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry recommended in October 2019 that the government develop guidelines for the evacuation of high-rise buildings. It finally published these in February 2024, more than four years later.

Now, in a letter to Home Secretary James Cleverly, Fire Brigades Union leader Matt Wrack said it was a “disgrace” that it had taken so long and described the guidance as containing “little of real substance”. The guidance was based on live tests of an evacuation conducted by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and the National Fire Chiefs’ Council (NFCC), but these did not take place on anything like the scale of Grenfell Tower. They also did not use smoke.

The letter describes the guidance as a “tick-box exercise” which “adds almost nothing to improve evacuation policy for high rise buildings”.

Commenting on the letter, Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said:

“This evacuation guidance is too little and too late. Nearly seven years on since the Grenfell Tower fire disaster, very little has changed on the regulations covering this critical area of safety.

“The Home Office has left residents in high rise flats vulnerable to a repeat of the Grenfell Fire tragedy. Ministers have engaged in what looks like a tick-box exercise to evacuation guidelines for people’s homes.

“The Grenfell Tower fire was a tragedy created by politicians and big business. For decades, the profits of developers were prioritised over human life. Cutting corners on regulation, funding and firefighters’ health and safety will not keep people safe.

“It may only be a matter of time before we face another tragedy, unless there is a dramatic policy shift. Ministers must wake up, and listen to the voices of firefighters and residents.”