From talking to people who lived in the block, the death toll is likely to rise considerably from the 17 confirmed at the moment in the Grenfell Tower blaze. I’ve been thinking a lot about the circumstances that made it possible. Talking to people in the area who knew, a large number of them expressed concern about the landlords. This block, and many like it, is managed by the KCTMO – The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation. This is a private company, and therefore for profit, managing what we think of as “council housing.” If you want a long read, one of the volunteers today pointed me to this blog article from November 2016.
It is standing for a group of tenants of that very block, calling themselves the Grenfell Action Group. It is arrestingly prescient. Horrifyingly so in the light of the death toll. The opening sentence begins: “It is a truly terrifying thought but the Grenfell Action Group firmly believe that only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord…”
As someone who now, it seems, writes a blog, I am aware that a blog holds negligible weight, if any. These musings and their consumption – it’s a relatively small circle of people. Which allows me some freedom, as it’s unlikely I’ll be sued by Trump for saying he is worried about his penis size. I could pretend to be an influencer but I’m not connected to any names that speak of influence. I’m a dude with a keyboard who thinks stuff and writes it down. There are many of us. Therefore it is easy to dismiss a blog. I dismiss blogs all the time. And that blog uses words like “evil” and “sordid” and compares the KCTMO to Kim Jong-Un. If my agenda was to try to persuade myself it had no authority, I could persuade myself of that easily, and walk away. And clearly it wasn’t taken seriously in November last year, and nor were the people behind it who were so concerned about the fire safety of their block that they formed an action group.
When something goes wrong, people quickly look for someone to blame. There’ll be a media witch hunt of the person in whose flat the fire started – they’re already gearing up for that by telling us how whoever it was packed a bag with all their clothes before telling the neighbour there was a fire. But I suspect people will look at the landlords in the light of this.
I met most of the KCTMO staff last week. Ordinary people doing ordinary work. Their management had spent a lot of money on something that felt unnecessary to me, and doubly so in the light of the fire. An acronym “QWIIC – Quality, Working together, Integrity, Innovation, Communication. “The behaviours framework will help us to celebrate achievements, talk about our aspirations and express how we would like to develop.” Anyone with a half decent bullshit radar will be lying on the floor frothing at the mouth by now, and this stuff goes on for page after page. If they can put so much importance on a set of “behaviours” (all of which are common sense) that repeatedly flag up the need for good customer service, integrity, innovation and communication, why can’t they back that up by listening to the concerns of the people that really know their blocks – the residents? And particularly those who are concerned enough to start an action group and write in such emotive language.
Another thing I heard was that residents had been told to stay in their flats in the event of a fire. “The fire doors will isolate the blaze, which can then be dealt with.” I’ve come across this idea myself in the block where I live. We have a fire escape that leads nowhere. You go through a door and you’re trapped. I put a ladder on the wall so that people could access the roof. A “health and safety inspector” told me the ladder was dangerous. I said “shall I put a sign on it saying it’s a dangerous ladder and should only be used in case of emergencies?” “No,” he said, with his faint talking-to-an-idiot smile. “You have to remove the ladder.” I asked him “What if there’s a fire? You come up here and you’re trapped” “You’ve all had fire doors put in,” he told me. We had – and payed handsomely for them. “The fire won’t travel.” That was his take on it, with the tone of someone who was talking to a complete moron that evidently didn’t understand fire doors like he did. I considered locking the ladder in place with multiple D-locks and putting a laminated warning sign to satisfy him, but before I had time, he got the ladder confiscated.
Anyone in Grenfell Tower who made the decision to stay in their flat because the health and safety inspector said the fire doors would prevent the spread of fire – they died when they could have maybe got out in time. And there had been posters in the lift telling them to stay. These moronic “health and safety” inspectors are working on theory rather than reality. There are still people out there that think the earth is flat. Magic fire doors aren’t going to stop a proper blaze any more than duck and cover is going to save you in a nuclear holocaust, or the brace position is going to save you in an aeroplane crash. “Stay in your flat” because we don’t want mass panic, and if you burn in your property it’s much easier to identify the bodies.
Anyway I sorted out a load more clothes. Once this is done maybe I’ll be able to sort my flat out…