Analysis Exclusive

Firefighter talks Bolton: cladding made fires near-impossible to predict and put lives in clear danger

Firefighters at Grenfell Tower in 2017

As the ruins of a student block still smoulder in Bolton following another catastrophic cladding fire and more than two years of government inaction after the Grenfell Tower blaze, a serving firefighter has written to the SKWAWKBOX about the significance of the events, on condition of anonymity:

The memories of the catastrophic fire at Grenfell Tower will be etched in our minds forever. It is now over two years since that tragic fire so the sight of the firefighting operations overnight at a student residential block will have brought these horrific memories to the forefront of our minds once again.

The scenes of fire-ridden cladding falling and fire spreading rapidly across the outside of a building are sights we all hoped we would never see again. The investigation into the fire at The Cube in Bolton will be taking place now so we cannot say for sure at this stage what caused the fire and to what extent cladding was involved.

Terrifying similarities with Grenfell

However it is clear from the pictures and video taken at the scene that this fire shared terrifying similarities with the fire at Grenfell Tower.

No modern building should have fire spreading rapidly across the exterior. Every firefighter will tell you that fighting fires in buildings that have been clad is quickly becoming a firefighters worst nightmare. It is impossible to say at what speed the fire will develop or predict where the fire might spread.

This means that if firefighters are confronted with an incident like the fire in Bolton, it becomes nearly impossible to plan and prepare for – putting firefighters and the public in extreme danger.

Decimated by Tory cuts

On top of this new horrendous challenge for firefighters, the fire service has been decimated by successive Tory governments and coalitions since 2010. Nearly 10,000 frontline firefighters have gone, hundreds of fire engines have been scrapped and stations closed.

Dangerous lows

It takes us longer to get to a fire than it did 10 years ago and when we do, we arrive with reduced resources to tackle the incident that meets us. Fire safety and fire policy in this country is utterly disgraceful. We have plunged to dangerous lows on what people should expect from one of the worlds richest countries.

Private Landlords are not being held accountable and local authorities have no effective enforcement powers. The deregulation agenda and cuts to the fire service must be stopped and reversed. We have to rip up the whole system and rebuild it with people’s safety, rather than profit, at the heart of new and transformative legislation.

A Tory government will continue to do nothing

It should be obvious to people that a Tory government will do nothing to address this shocking and dangerous situation. Boris Johnson’s attitude to people raising fire safety concerns is to tell them to “get stuffed” and the Tories have failed at every level when it comes to your fire service.

It is only a Labour government that will listen, legislate and regulate to ensure that the necessary action is taken on these buildings and it is only a Labour government that will resource the fire service properly for the future.

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  1. I wonder when our wonderful MPs will be called to account for allowing such poor legislation to be passed authorising the use of flammable cladding, without scrutiny nor complaint & why questions are not being asked right now about the safety of those working class people who are still in danger who live in high rise flats. Hold those responsible to account & demand public safety.

  2. I wonder when the TORY MPs in power for 🔟 years aided by the LibDems will be called to account for allowing such poor legislation to be passed authorising the use of flammable cladding, without scrutiny nor complaint & why questions are not being asked right now of TORIES Tory enabling LibDems, about the safety of those working class people especially as LEGAL AID has been cut so harshly that they can not afford recourse to a justice system stacked against them by the Tories and Tory aiding LibDems. Many except the 1%, the sole preoccupation of the Tories and LibDems, still live in PRIVATE ENTERPRISE shoddily built and managed high rise flats.

    Hold those responsible to account NOW with criminal prosecution using the concept of “crime by association” applied to date, only to the poor, particularly ethnic minorities. It has come to light via LBC several months ago that the immoral “guilt by association”, even remote association, is used to start poor black boys on the road to unjust life limiting criminal records, EVEN IN SCHOOL. The poor are bring excluded from school by association.

    We need no more judicial or other inquiries about these or other burning issues of basic justice. We need no more “heartfelt apologies”, no more bleating of “Lessons will be learnt”. They have not been learnt. They will not be learnt… certainly not by Tories nor LibDems. EVIDENCE Larkenhall tragedy. Inquiry. Then Grenfell bigger tragedy. Longer-winded back to front Inquiry in progress. Now the Bolton horror. Another inquiry? NO‼️

    Even as a child knew from listening to the grown ups, that Government Inquiries were often a means of kicking important matters into the long grass. Then the inherently hypocritical like Tony Blair, would respond to questions – “I can’t comment as the inquiry must take its course”.

    When the Inquiries finally report, they are acres of double dutch, waffle and obfuscation to let off those of their revolving door circle and wear out the thousands of victims. Further the crooks can relax with their own time table to retire with huge pensions or die and leave their loot to their spawn. Much worse, allowed to cause more death and destruction, crawling like Tory Bliar, to every country full of suffering oppressed citizens. Tory Bliar crawling there still raking in millions from any kleptomaniac murdering and torturing despot who still hope the Bliar and its egglayer will give their despotic regimes a Bliar hissed spit and spin. Think of it, since leaving office, is there a single war the war monger Blair has not begged via EVERY MSM that we should launch???… with other people’s children??? On other people’s children???

    NO • MORE • INQUIRIES ‼️ PROSECUTE THE MULTIFACETED CRIMINAL TORIES & LIB DEMS NOW‼️‼️ Please, stop them causing many others to needlessly lose their lives ⚫️ ⚫️⚫️

    1. Sorry – but your conclusion is confused and illogical. Like it or not – without forensic inquiry, you aren’t going to have a case to prosecute.

      The problem is lack of a clear plan action following inquiries, not the process of having them.

      1. Are you saying that criminal prosecution are by nature not forensic? What do you think of all the cases normally prosecuted by the criminal justice systems here and abroad?

        Are our allies across the pond launching an inquiry into Trumps trumping or commence a “criminal” prosecution”? Have his allies been subjected to prosecutions or inquiries?

        By comparison, has the action re the Iraq war or 7/7 been subject to criminal prosecutions or inquiries. There is a clear pattern to me and others.

        You have shown yourself to be sensible on one or two occasions recently. So, I suspect you choose to feign confusion.

        The logic here and in my previous post is clear to others and you. Do learn, you will never intimidate me. Best you apply your good brain to something positive.

        Can you point out even one aspect of the Larkenhall Fire Inquiry which prevented the CRIMINAL Grenfell deadly inferno, other fires in high-rise flats similarly clad, and now Bolton?? l

        Have you listened to any of the statements from the fire-service after any of those fires??? Yes the problem IS a lack of a clear plan of action following inquiries. And, I maintain, as described that the Inquiries allow persistent criminals off the hook eg Hillsborough, ALL the inquiries re Tony Blair’s Iraq blood spilling catastrophe. They run often for years and cost the taxpayers many £millions.

        With prompt diligent criminal prosecutions, many issues can be dealt with at once. We will have forensics AND, the criminals like those who allowed the flammable cladding on many buildings and Iraq war criminals like Tony Blair ( repeated deliberately as i suspect that irks you so. No???) Prosecutions may lead to convictions of Tory crooks and remove their war criminals like Tony Blair off our streets and hopefully off the public funded BBC, where he and Blunket seem to have adjoining lavish suites. They are always on, despite their “crimes by association”. Are you willing to accept clear logical now? No?

      2. RH the rot started in the privatization of building control officers and the whole deregulation agenda.The fact that liability for the material and skilled construction of buildings now rests with the developer,who usually contacts the actual works out to a subcontractor makes liability for works difficult to establish,especially as the subcontractor will then subcontract the more specialised works of plumbing and electrics including insulation and double glazing to smaller companies who are not always properly insured.I am positive that the grenfell disaster will cost billions around the world when the implications of our cladding systems of using inflamable toxic insulation bolted to the fabric of a building using a vapour barrier that acts has a chimney are fully understood Notice the deathly solar from the institute of architects and surveyors?

      3. Joseph – You are right about the privatisation of Building Control. I was there when it happened. Again, another little number by the Blair government.

        signpost – the objectives of criminal prosecution and a full inquiry are different. The prosecution of individuals or individual organisations that might be held responsible for negligence is pretty difficult when the situation is clearly focused.

        In the case of cladding on buildings, there are a multitude of strands, individuals and organisations involved that need to be untangled (from those designing and drawing up regulations, to politicians who enact legal requirements, to manufacturers, builsers etc. etc.) . And that is before you get to the question of actual culpability or negligence.

        That is why inquiries are essential, even if they have potential flaws. One such flaw can be the haste to pursue ‘blame’ – as has actually happened in the case of firefighters involved in Grenfell Tower.

        The important issue is, firstly, to prevent another occurrence and pin down the chain of factors that led to the use of such an obviously unsatisfactory design. Only then can the individual human contributions be properly diagnosed.

        One thing we can all agree on is the need to move on what is known – which doesn’t appear to have happened, even given that the technical issues posed by remedies will be complex.

        And, by the way, I have no intention of trying to ‘intimidate’ (?) you.

  3. I have some questions. UK tower blocks can’t be the only ones covered in cladding or companies making cladding sheets would have too small a market – yet I don’t remember a single news item from any other countries on any fires like Grenfell.
    UK buildings aren’t that different to the rest of the world and the reasons for cladding buildings aren’t unique to the UK, so why?
    Perhaps other countries had the basic common sense to insist on sprinklers in high rise buildings?
    I first became aware of building sprinklers as a child watching old American noir movies from the 1940’s or 50’s and realised they were almost unknown in British buildings.
    They’re still rare here except in warehouses storing products of presumably greater value than human lives.

    1. David the use of insulation materials found on all types of building domestic and commercial is a growing subject for litigation,especially in the spray foam insulation market were cancer causing chemicals are being blamed.Like everything else the classe action against companys in the USA is a growing business and the celotex figures in a major lawsuits that will include the grenfell disaster and if won will sound the trumpet for major multimillion claims across the world and especially the US and Europe were much of this material is made and distributed.You are right to point out “nothing as been heard “but I am sure that the grenfell lawyers are awaiting with some hope for the residents of grenfell if the USA lawsuit is successful.Celotex are the panels and the parent company that are involved in the the USA.I am sure that all of us hope for a successful result in the USA and I do wonder why we hear nothing in this country,but with broadcasters like the BBC….???

  4. David you really did open a can of worms with your question on cladding.It seems that 3 companys are being taken into court,but now the argument is was the litigation on the company of celotex even legal and they are now hiding behind the “Delaware” company status and claiming their is no such company as celotex Ltd.The claims regarding grenfell have been moved to another higher court in Pennsylvania and the claims drag on against Archaic,whirlpool and celotex,but who knows if if the claim against celotex a Uk registered company will survive the ducking and diving of the legal profession.It seems that celotex was originally involved in the Asbestos scandal of the 1980s and was bancrupted but was ressurected under the British company name.Thats it David and what a shambles company law is…thats a whole new subject though?


    Dear Secretary of State

    I know you will share my concern the recent fire in Bolton and will want to join me in paying tribute to the emergency services who acted so swiftly and professionally to ensure no one was seriously injured.

    This was the fifth fire just this year which has ripped through a multi-occupancy building and a shocking reminder that tens of thousands of people are still living in buildings with lethal cladding.

    Two and a half years after Grenfell it simply beggars belief that the Government has left eight in ten buildings covered in the same deadly cladding. And it is equally astounding that you neither know how many other types of deadly cladding exist, nor how many buildings are wrapped in it.

    It has now been confirmed that the block in Bolton was clad in High Pressure Laminate (HPL). This is incredibly concerning given that a Government Minister has admitted being aware of a failed fire test involving the same brand of Trespa HPL cladding over a year ago. The Government’s inaction since, in light of this weekend’s events, is stunning.

    Your Government has been off the pace at every stage since Grenfell and has sought to abdicate responsibility for what is clearly a national crisis and a monumental failure of government regulation.

    With this in mind, I would be grateful for your urgent response to the following questions:

    Setting a deadline for the removal of all ACM cladding
    1.The removal and replacement of ACM cladding on social and private blocks is still far too slow. After repeated Labour pressure, your government set targets to see social blocks completed by the end of the year and private blocks by June 2020. However figures reveal that at the current rate, the social sector will not be made safe until October 2022 and private blocks until October 2033. How do you intend on getting this programme of work back on target?
    2.The funding for the removal of cladding from social blocks has still not been fully allocated – despite it being announced well over a year ago. Can you confirm when both cladding funds will be fully distributed?
    3.There are even bigger questions over the fund for removing ACM cladding from private blocks. Not a single block has been allocated funding, despite the fund being announced six months ago. You have said that some developers will maintain their commitment to pay for the work but have given no clarity on how many blocks this accounts for, nor what you will do if developers backtrack having previously agreed to pay. Can you clarify how many blocks the £200m fund your Government announced in June, will cover, and whether you will set a deadline for the funding to be allocated?

    Guaranteeing that all flammable cladding is identified
    4.Labour has been warning since July 2017 that the cladding crisis was not limited to ACM cladding. It took your Government two years to admit that High Pressure Laminate (HPL) was too dangerous to be kept on buildings. Can you corroborate what is indicated by planning documents, that the cladding on the block in Bolton is the same Trespa brand as the failed fire test shown to your department in November 2018?
    5.Can you confirm what action the Government has taken to remove dangerous HPL cladding from tower blocks across the country since admitting in the summer that it should be removed? It would appear to those living in affected tower blocks that your Government has done nothing.
    6.Do you agree that the Bolton fire demonstrates that urgent action must begin from Government to remediate HPL clad buildings?
    7.Your Government has tested HPL and Grenfell-style ACM cladding to the British Standards approved pass/fail criteria. Will you commit to testing all remaining samples of non-ACM cladding to the same standard?

    Finding and removing all flammable cladding from tower blocks
    8.Following a large-scale British Standards test on all non-ACM cladding samples, will you commit to immediately ordering the removal of all cladding which fails the tests?
    9.After Grenfell, the Government short-sightedly only collected information on private blocks containing ACM cladding and still has no overall picture of the number of blocks covered in suspect non-ACM cladding. Will you commit to fast-tracking the building cladding surveys on tall buildings so that work can start as soon as possible if any samples fail a large-scale test?

    Putting the safety of residents first
    10.Residents deserve to know immediately if their block is covered in dangerous materials, but you are still unable to guarantee that this has happened in buildings found to have unsafe cladding to date. Ministers continue to insist that building owners are responsible for informing residents. Given reports of residents in buildings with flammable cladding being kept in the dark about this fact, will you commit to communicating directly with residents in blocks with failed cladding, to name and shame the owners of these blocks?
    11.Will you toughen the sanctions for any block owners who do not act to remove and replace dangerous cladding (ACM or non-ACM) with stronger powers for councils to take over blocks where owners refuse to do this, to get the work done? Too many unscrupulous private building owners have left residents living in fear while they pass on extortionate bills for interim fire safety measures such as waking watches.
    12.Sprinklers are a legal requirement for all new high-rise blocks, yet ministers continue to claim retrofitting of high-rise social blocks is ‘non-essential’. Following calls from numerous councils and fire experts, will you match Labour’s commitment to a £1bn Fire Safety Fund to retrofit sprinklers in social sector tower blocks?

    This is a national crisis which requires a national response. Your Government cannot keep sitting on its hands when so many lives are in peril.

    I hope you are able to respond urgently on these points.

    Best wishes,

    Sarah Jones

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