Apathy and complacency that even mass death cannot shake

The first part of the judge-run inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire has been released. The Guardian reports that the London Fire Brigade comes in for some criticism – for example that they were not prepared for this kind of contingency. Sir Martin Moore-Bick also apparently comments that more people could have been saved if the order to evacuate had been given sooner. (That is long after the rationale for the stay-put policy had been rendered irrelevant by circumstances and long after the time when most people could have been gotten out safely).

Why is the head of the London Fire Brigade still in her job today? Everyone – by which I mean the government, the press, the public – should be screaming this question at her. Danny Cotton  arrived at 2.49 [1]. The stay-put advice was abandoned at 2.47, 1 hour and 21 minutes after flames had already reached the top of the building. But she had been in contact with the team on the ground by radio as she drove to the site prior to this. When she arrived she did not take control and limited herself to offering emotional support to firefighters. (So she cannot claim credit for the belated decision to evacuate).

In response to the inquiry report Danny Cotton has issued a bland statement.  [2]  This includes (with comments):

I want to express our deepest sorrow at not being able to save all those who died in the Grenfell Tower fire.

This would not ring quite so false if you had actually tried to rescue people.

The Inquiry’s report details from the start that fire spread to the top of the building within 20 minutes. It was an unprecedented residential building fire, precipitated by significant failings of the building’s fire safety measures which created impossible conditions that residents and the emergency services must never be placed in again

Here she is claiming to be one of the victims. Further; if the fire spread within 20 minutes that means that the “stay put” advice was already redundant by 1.15 am which means it took the Fire Brigade another 1 hour and 32 minutes to cotton on to the fact that stay put was no longer a good idea.

but we are disappointed at some of the criticism of individual staff members who were placed in completely unprecedented circumstances and faced the most unimaginable conditions while trying to save the lives of others

Large fires are by their nature quite unprecedented. You are paid to deal with the unexpected – not with the expected. Fires do not always follow policies and procedures. This entire reponse – a classic local authority attempt to explain away failings by blaming the ‘policies and procedures’ – shows that even at this point Ms Cotton has not grasped the problem. You and your officers were faced with unprecedented conditions – but the problem is you failed to rise to the occasion.

The people of London paid for the above statement which is released on the London Fire Brigade website.

Cotton has also said:

It’s important for me that I continue to protect the people of London by putting those steps in place and developing LFB, and by resigning now that would not happen

“Continue” protecting people? She must be living in a parallel universe. As for not resigning now apparently you have announced that you will resign next year – aged 50. So that is just a few months to put “those steps in place”.

The point of this post is not to castigate Danny Cotton especially though there does seem to be quite a thick skin here. I’m just noting that it is a sign of some kind of malaise that this failure can be allowed to pass and that society is prepared to tolerate it. 72 people died – almost all of whom would have been saved in the Fire Brigade had simply realised the fire was out of control and had attempted an evacuation. As for the explanation offered by the officer in charge that he had not been trained in how to evacuate a tower block – Jesus Christ – I haven’t either but I can work it out; you send a dozen firefighters to the top of the block and then they work their way downstairs banging on doors shouting “Fire, get out now”.  (And when people call 999 from a tower block which is in flames from top to bottom it is probably best not to tell them to “stay put”).

My point is that Grenfell shows that the values of individual responsibility and ability to act resourcefully in a crisis are in a scarcity in this society and, worse, that that scarcity is hardly noticed.


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/jun/20/london-fire-chief-dany-cotton-grenfell-tragedy-early-retirement
  2. https://www.london-fire.gov.uk/news/2019-news/october/statement-on-the-publication-of-the-grenfell-tower-inquiry-phase-1-report/

Author: justinwyllie

EFL Teacher and Photographer