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Working to keep our high-rise residents safer

Work in Essex to keep tower block residents safer is being held up as a national example.

After a fire broke out in a flat in Grenfell Tower, London, in 2017, the lives of 72 residents were claimed as emergency services battled against the rapidly spreading blaze.

As a result, an inquiry was launched, and all fire and rescue services were required to carry out reviews of their evacuation strategies to ensure the future safety of tower block residents.

In Essex, fire crews are now equipped with new life-saving equipment, including:

  • smoke hoods – hoods which are placed over a resident’s head to enable them to be walked through a smoke-field corridor safely, while breathing and seeing clearly
  • smoke curtains – curtains which, when fitted to the door of a fire-filled property, prevent smoke from escaping and spreading
  • electronic evacuation boards – a command point showing where everyone is located within the building to aid rescue

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service has also implemented a three-step internal assurance process to ensure evidence is produced to demonstrate how it is responding to the inquiry’s recommendations.

Two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus inside the corridor of a building.

Firefighters taking part in a multi agency partnership exercise in Southend testing the response to a fire in a high-rise building.

Amanda Johnson, Senior Projects Manager, Emergency Services Collaboration Programme in Essex, is leading on a unique regional response to the Grenfell Inquiry which brings together Essex, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk and Kent emergency services.

The Home Office is looking to share this model across the country.

Amanda said: “The Grenfell Inquiry came up with more than 40 recommendations for fire and rescue services. Most relate to London specifically, but all fire and rescue services are looking at the recommendations to see whether there are gaps in their provision or improvements which can be made.

“All of the recommendations relate to high-rise buildings. Not all areas will have a high number of high-rise buildings, but we have a significant amount in Essex.

“There are two parts to what we are doing in Essex. We are looking internally to make sure we are delivering to the best of our ability against the recommendations and evidencing what we are doing. It is not good enough to do it, it is about showing and evidencing that we are doing it. We are also looking at having a regional assurance forum with the aim of seeing how everyone is doing and how we can help each other. It is about sharing our learning and developing good practise.

“In Essex, we are pretty well ahead of the game when it comes to collaboration. We had the first police, fire and crime commissioner. We have an understanding of the benefits of collaboration. It is about using that experience and knowledge to say there is something we can do regionally here. We are leading with that idea and it means residents across the region will get consistent messaging.

“This work will ensure the best outcomes for the people of Essex. It will ensure our evacuation policies are consistent, effective and efficient and that communications between the control room and fire ground are the best they can be.

“I am very proud of where we are with this work and how we have pushed through with understanding the actions and tasks that need to be taken.”

After an inaugural meeting in the summer, the regional assurance forum is being launched soon, with representatives from each county in the region meeting regularly to review progress and to share best practice.

The forum will ensure the Grenfell Action Plans meet the recommendations in the Phase 1 Grenfell Tower Inquiry Report to keep services and communities safer.

Roger Hirst, Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for Essex, said: “Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is committed to keeping everyone safe and it’s important that the work they are doing in this area is being noted nationally. Residents in Essex, particularly those who live in tower blocks, can be reassured that the Service is keeping them safe and mitigating any risks.”

Rick Hylton, Chief Fire Officer / Chief Executive, and Chris Parker, Director of Operations, give an overview of Exercise Lego – a multi-agency, high-rise training exercise in Southend on 13 April 2022.

Roger Hirst and representatives from the Home Office attended and watched the exercise take place.

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PFCC for Essex, Kelvedon Park, London Road, Rivenhall, Witham, Essex, CM8 3HB
01245 291600

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