As a member of the Kent and Medway Fire and Rescue Authority (KMFRA), I attended my first meeting on Thursday 15th June. We started that meeting with a minute silence as a mark of respect for those who lost their lives in the Grenfell Tower disaster and all those involved and affected by this catastrophic event. It goes without saying how utterly devastating this has been. The shock and outrage from the general public is commensurate with the scale of the tragedy. We have heard demands for public reassurance, questions on fire prevention and calls for a platinum guarantee that public safety will always come before corporate profit and government austerity.
My next concern is to ensure that those Thanet residents living in local tower blocks are safe and that can live their lives without fear of similar threats from fire. I have been corresponding with Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) on this point. I wanted to know:
- Who’s responsibility it is to carry out safety checks and when will that happen?
- What sort of engagement process would take place and can we be assured that all residents will be involved?
- What further assistance will their be for residents?
Here is the response:
“We are planning our community engagement strategy in relation to people living in high rise buildings but responsibility for the safety of occupants lies with the ‘responsible person’. My understanding in relation to these type of premises in Thanet is that Thanet District Council holds this responsibility which is managed through an ‘arm’s length company’ – East Kent Housing. The responsibility for emergency advice in relation to the building and ensuring that tenants are aware rests with the responsible person.
KFRS has a very fine line to tread in this regard as, whilst we absolutely want to help people be and feel safe, we also have a compliance and enforcement role in regards to the technical fire safety legislation – Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
The Chief Executive has already written to local authority Chief Execs and we are writing directly to all the responsible persons for high rise within Kent and Medway. As mentioned, we have already updated our high rise advice leaflet and are planning joint site visits to all residential high rise between our operational, technical fire safety and community safety teams. These will be designed to allow us to check compliance with the relevant legislation (audit), refresh operational site specific risk information and offer community safety advice to residents. This is in addition to the actions that need to be undertaken by the responsible person for the building. We are currently planning this activity and will be commencing next week with the intention of completing all sites over the following weeks.
We will be offering residents a safe and well visit, with additional information as contained within the high rise leaflet.”
Labour leader, Councillor Jenny Matterface has written to Thanet District Council (TDC) leader Chris Wells and CEO Madeline Homer urging an appropriate and swift response.
In the meantime, I will urge all our local councillors to support both TDC and the KFRS in their endeavours to get the safety message to resudents. I’m particularly concerned for our elderly residents and others who are vulnerable.
Further information from Kent Fire & Rescue Service
If you have concerns regarding safety at home, work or on the road, or wish to read up-to-date advice on how to better protect yourself, your family and others, read the Kent Fire and Rescue Service safety web pages.