Justice

Reactions to London Fire Show Many Believe the Tragedy Could Have Been Prevented

June 15th 2017

By:
Danielle DeCourcey

A massive apartment complex fire that killed 17 people and critically injured many more in West London has now prompted a debate about income inequality and infrastructure.

London Block Fire

Critics say the fire could have been prevented.

Witness accounts given to the New York Times indicate that the building's alarm system was inadequate, as survivors reportedly first heard that there was a dangerous fire spreading from other neighbors, not officials or a building-wide fire alarm system.

The Grenfell Action Group, which represents residents of the burned building, reportedly complained for years that local officials and the tower's management company ignored concerns about fire hazards.

The Guardian reported that the group told the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organization (KCTMO) that they had expressed safety concerns about the boilers and gas pipes, and the lack of a building-wide sprinkler or fire alarm system.

In November, the group ominously warned it would take a disaster for the KCTMO to address their concerns.

“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, the KCTMO,” the complaint reportedly reads.

Judith Blakeman, a local council member who sits on the KCTMO board, raised multiple concerns about safety issues at the apartment building, but she said they were ignored.

“I was treated like I was a nuisance,” she told the Guardian. “I raised 19 complaints on behalf of individual residents. Every single time we were told that the board had satisfied itself that the fire safety was fine.”

In the aftermath of the deadly fire, politicians said that older tower buildings around the United Kingdom should be torn down because they're too dangerous.

London Block Fire

“Those ‘70s buildings, many of them should be demolished,” David Lammy, a Labour Party lawmaker, told the Times. “They have not got easy fire escapes. They have got no sprinklers. It is totally, totally unacceptable in Britain that this is allowed to happen and that people lose their lives in this way.”

U.K. Prime Minster Theresa May has called for an investigation into the fire.

Many of the residents of Grenfell Towers are low-income and ethnic minorities, leading to accusations that dollars were put before the safety of marginalized residents.

Funding for infrastructure and public safety services have been a contentious topic in the city for several years, and residents haven't forgotten that history in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

For example, ex-London Mayor Boris Johnson tweeted his condolences for the victims of Grenfell Tower fire.

However, his sympathies were met with pointed backlash.

 

Johnson cut funding for fire departments in 2014, which led to 10 stations closing and hundreds of firefighters losing their jobs. At the time, Johnson was questioned about the cuts at a City Hall meeting by the Labour Assembly Leader at the time, Andrew Dismore.

"How can cutting fire stations, cutting fire engines and cutting firefighters post not be a reduction in fire cover?" he said during the exchange, which has been widely shared online since the fire.

"Because we're improving fire cover, as I've said several times, by continuing to reduce deaths from fire, and continuing to reduce the incidents of fire," Johnson said. "That is the name of the game."

Dismore was not satisfied with that answer.

"You've lied to the people of London in your own actions," said Dismore. Johnson's reply to that accusation was simple.

"Get stuffed," he said.

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