Author Topic: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October  (Read 207 times)

Offline John Webb

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May I draw your attention to this programme, which starts off with the 1973 Summerland Leisure Centre fire.

I have a close interest in the programme as they came and interviewed me about Summerland several months ago. (I am the sole surviving member of the Fire Research Station team that went and investigated it.) Don't be put off - they rang me 4 weeks ago to say I am not appearing - despite my attempts to explain things in layman's terms they thought "it was too technical" to use, but thanked me for the most useful information I had given them. I shall be watching with interest to see what they make of it!
John Webb
Consultant on Fire Safety, Diocese of St Albans
(Views expressed are my own)

Offline Messy

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2018, 12:20:26 PM »
Oh dear, the fact they are editing you out John doesn't fill me with delight.

Is this going to be a serious 'Horizon' style of scientifically accurate documentary or a Channel 5 'Shock & Awe' type coffee table magazine type film, where the producers play the sexy and shocking blame game, rather than a serious study of the facts?

Maybe in end, in the 21st century of lightweight instant media and audiences with low attention spans, showing a grieving relative is more televisual than a boffin in a lab coat (no offence).  Maybe they have done you a favour dropping you onto the cutting room floor.

I will be interested to hear your considered views once the documentary has been aired

Offline John Webb

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2018, 04:49:01 PM »
I gather the 'human story' of those who experienced the fires is to be the main theme. I suspect the fact that the Summerland 'Oroglas' cladding clearly caught fire only after most of the deaths had occurred was probably one factor the programme makers may not have greeted with enthusiasm!

It certainly wasn't 'white lab coat' work on site - stout gumboots, hard hats and protective coats. I took all our site photos, as well as examining the fire alarm and emergency lighting side of things. I'd only been on the FIT (Fire Investigation Team) for just over a month when it happened, and it has left me with considerable memories even 45 years later.

A humorous aside - I was the most junior in both rank and age and the only one entitled to claim the significant amount of overtime we did; there was some gentle leg-pulling by my seniors that I should treat everyone to a lunch when we returned home!
« Last Edit: October 29, 2018, 05:10:47 PM by John Webb »
John Webb
Consultant on Fire Safety, Diocese of St Albans
(Views expressed are my own)

Offline Owain

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2018, 10:42:08 PM »
11.15 pm BBC 2 Scotland, if anyone else is north of the border or wants to watch it again on satellite

Offline John Webb

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2018, 09:48:20 AM »
.......Is this going to be a serious 'Horizon' style of scientifically accurate documentary or a Channel 5 'Shock & Awe' type coffee table magazine type film, where the producers play the sexy and shocking blame game, rather than a serious study of the facts?

......I will be interested to hear your considered views once the documentary has been aired

Right, here goes! I stress I speak only about the Summerland incident - I'm not knowledgeable in any detail about the 4 other fires mentioned in the programme. And I'd say the programme fell somewhere between your two extremes.

The role of the 'Galbestos' steel sheet cladding at the end where the fire occurred was briefly mentioned, but they missed several important factors about this:
It was lined inside with a flammable lining rather than plasterboard.
It was used instead of reinforced concrete as originally designed to speed and cheapen construction.
This change was never referred back to the fire service for their comments.

Other major omissions:
1. The lack of any mention that of the five fires featured in the programme, Summerland was the only building fitted with a full fire alarm system which could have been used to get people out, but lack of staff training meant it wasn't used when it should have been.
2. To speed construction, as well as the use of 'Galbestos', there was a steel framework and wood floors in place of a reinforced concrete frame and concrete floors. This significantly increased the fire load at the end of the building and the lightweight applied asbestos protective spray on the underside of the floors encouraged the rapid spread of fire underneath it - the large thermal mass of a concrete floor would have slowed things down.
3. No mention that the 'Oroglass' was not being used as the American makers recommended - it was held along all four edges, whereas they recommended that it should be held along two opposing edges so that it would soften and fall out in the event of a fire......

Indeed, as I had feared, the 'Oroglass' plastic cladding was given far too much prominence. The Fire Research team came to the conclusion quite quickly after getting on site that the vast majority of the 50 deaths had been caused by the rapidly spreading fire under the floors at the 'Galbestos' clad section of the building and most of them died before the 'Oroglass' caught fire. While some appalling injuries were caused by the falling blazing drops of 'Oroglass', I don't recall any deaths being attributed directly to this. It is possible that the melting of the 'Oroglass' at high level actually vented the fire and stopped a build-up of smoke and combustion gases filling the whole building and killing even more.

Personally, I can see why my contribution was not used - it was too technical, and delivered in a calm and considered manner which would have been, possibly, too strong a contrast to the accounts of those that had been there at the time of the fire. I think some of the photos of Summerland before the fire were ones I supplied, although they might have got them from the IoMan museum.

I was surprised to see in the credits at the end that this was a joint BBC/Open University production, although filmed and produced by a company under contract to them.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2018, 06:47:32 PM by John Webb »
John Webb
Consultant on Fire Safety, Diocese of St Albans
(Views expressed are my own)

Offline Owain

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2018, 02:49:55 PM »
The OU webpage is here
https://www.open.edu/openlearn/tv-radio-events/tv/the-fires-foretold-grenfell

The Independent said:
Quote
As The Fires that Foretold Grenfell forensically and graphically illustrated, the rigid use of the ?stay put? rule, official complacency and a collective failure to learn lessons over many years led inexorably and inevitably to the loss of 72 lives at Grenfell Tower (and even that was mercifully fewer than it might have been). And, given the history presented in this distressing and important documentary, the answer to the question so often asked: ?Could Grenfell Happen Again??, is: ?Certainly?.

The filmmakers take five egregious examples of official failure over the past half-century or so, and, again and again, showed how the usual cries of ?never again? and pledges to ?learn lessons? were forgotten almost as soon as they fell from the lips of those supposed to be doing the learning and protecting.

There were five of these precursors to Grenfell, and, in fact, they were often precursors to each other, the lessons stubbornly and consistently ignored as the decades wore on.... After Summerland, recommendations were made to tighten building regulations across the UK. But the rules were streamlined in the mid-1980s, as part of some misplaced mission to deregulate the economy, leaving them confused, and then actually weakened further in 2006, and with entirely predictable results: fires at Knowsley Heights, Liverpool (1991); Garnock Court, Irvine, North Ayrshire (1999); Harrow Court , Stevenage, Hertfordshire (2005); Lakanal House, London; and then Grenfell. Mostly out of good fortune, the loss of life was relatively modest ? but all were near misses, wake-up calls, warnings, whatever you?d like to call them. They were not acted upon.

I wasn't aware of Knowsley, Garnock or Harrow.

Does it really take the various Grenfell inquiries to tell us again that high-rise buildings are vulnerable, high-rise buildings without sprinklers are very vulnerable, and high-rise buildings wrapped in plastic are dangerous beyond belief in the 21st century in a first world country?
« Last Edit: October 31, 2018, 02:56:09 PM by Owain »

Offline John Webb

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2018, 07:06:27 PM »
Owain - thanks for that link. The OU page explains, to me at least, why the programme took the form it did.

It also reminded me indirectly that the programme also failed to make clear that Summerland was built under regulations significantly different to those that existed on the mainland due to the autonomy of the Isle of Man. They had not followed the lead of the mainland's 1971 Fire Precautions Act, but swiftly introduced similar legislation in 1974.
John Webb
Consultant on Fire Safety, Diocese of St Albans
(Views expressed are my own)

Offline colin todd

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #7 on: November 02, 2018, 12:32:16 AM »
Ah, they would have been better with you, Johnny that all those armchair experts.  I always considered that Galbestos (and maybe decalin) was more the villain of the piece than Oroglas but it just did not make such spectacular pics.  Also, it was complete rubbish to imply Summerland had a stay put strategy-because of lack of training and preparedness it had a nothing much strategy.

Knowsley led to cavity barriers but never really entered the building.  I get fed up of hearing about the FATAL fire at Garnock Court-the guy died in the flat of fire origin, so what is that to do with cladding, which wasnt even cladding  but window spandrels.  Harrow Court led to non combustible fixings for fire alarm cables though their need was already clear, but what did it have to do with the price of fish as far as this awful prog was concerned. 

How dare they cut you out, Johnny.  I intend to march in front of Broadcasting House with a banner demanding Justice for Johnny.
Colin Todd, C S Todd & Associates

Offline John Webb

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #8 on: November 02, 2018, 06:29:21 PM »
Thanks, Colin, but I feel I'd rather not be associated with a programme that failed to make things clear, at least as far as Summerland is concerned.
John Webb
Consultant on Fire Safety, Diocese of St Albans
(Views expressed are my own)

Offline colin todd

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Re: "The Fires That Foretold Grenfell" - BBC 2, 9pm Tuesday 30th October
« Reply #9 on: November 03, 2018, 12:04:57 AM »
OK, Johnny, I am cancelling my protest.  It was a bit cold to march in front of BH anyway, and I am not too well at the moment, but think of my protest at cutting you out of the prog to be a kind of virtual protest. I imagine your factual account got in the way of a good story.
Colin Todd, C S Todd & Associates