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Bolton block evacuation ‘saved many lives’

31 July 2020

THE DECISION by Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) to use new evacuation procedures ‘put in place’ post Grenfell ‘saved many lives’, a report has found.

The Cube building in Bolton caught fire on Friday 15 November last year, with the six storey building seeing fire spread ‘extremely rapidly’. Two people were injured in the fire, which began on the fourth floor, saw the top floor ‘gutted’ and the fourth and fifth floors ‘visibly damaged’, with 200 GMFRS firefighters and 40 appliances required to fight it ‘at its height’.

Students were evacuated, with eyewitnesses stating that the fire was ‘crawl[ing] up the cladding like it was nothing’, had ‘quickly exposed’ the building’s frame, and had been ‘climbing up and to the right’ due to wind, flames ‘bubbling from the outside and then being engulfed from the outside’. It was also described as having grown ‘like crazy’ and spreading ‘so rapidly’, while reports claimed that fire alarms in some flats ‘were not loud enough’.

Students stated that alarms ‘go off almost every day’ in the building, which led to confusion ‘over whether it was a drill or a false alarm’. GMFRS had requested a fire safety assessment in 2018, including a cladding assessment, with ‘unspecified’ works undertaken – according to council records, it was reclad with HPL in 2018. Most recently, the block was revealed to have been 17.84m tall – meaning it was ‘just 16cm’ shorter than the 18m in the government’s combustible materials ban.

BBC News has now reported on the GMFRS report into the fire, which found that the immediate evacuation of the block by GMFRS, utilising new evacuation procedures created post Grenfell, ‘saved many lives’. There were over 200 people inside the block on the night of the fire, with two students needing to be rescued by firefighters including one from the sixth floor, and GMFRS arrived ‘just over three minutes after’ the 999 call.

Within 25 minutes the fire had spread to ‘all floors’, and as the fire spread ‘it was quickly evident that the building was failing to perform in accordance with expectations’ said the report, adding in turn that ‘the swift and successful implementation of new operational procedures for tackling fires in multi-occupied residential buildings played a key part in the saving of lives’. As a result, these procedures will be sent to other UK fire and rescue services.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham called for removal of combustible cladding from all buildings ‘without any resident having to foot the bill’, and added: ‘This report confirms that our firefighters did a truly outstanding job in tackling the fire. They undoubtedly saved people from serious injury or worse, and we all owe them a huge debt of thanks. The incident also brought home the danger of leaving flammable cladding on buildings.’

GMFRS chief fire officer Jim Wallace commented: ‘The speed with which the fire took hold and the devastating impact it had on the building was immense. I want to place on record my appreciation of the actions of all who responded to the fire at The Cube. They demonstrated great professionalism in the face of extremely testing circumstances.’

Fire Brigades Union brigade secretary for Greater Manchester, Steve Wiswell, stated: ‘This fire was a shocking reminder of the appalling state of building safety in the UK. Firefighters responded bravely in difficult circumstances, but years of cuts and government complacency over building safety - even after Grenfell - left them exposed that night.

‘But we should be clear that six fire engines were cut in Greater Manchester just six weeks before the fire due to the Tory government slashing fire funding and Andy Burnham should have stepped in to stop them. They must now be restored for the sake of public safety.’

University of Bolton vice chancellor Professor George Holmes said he was ‘eternally grateful’ to GMFRS, and that ‘there is no doubt their excellent work saved lives’.

Bolton block evacuation ‘saved many lives’