Fire Brigades Union challenges new Home Office evacuation guidelines

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The Fire Brigades Union (FBU), representing a significant number of UK firefighters, has issued a strong criticism of the newly published government guidelines on building evacuation.

This response comes in the wake of the Home Office’s release of evacuation guidelines for fire and rescue services, specifically for high-rise buildings.

The FBU’s letter, addressed to the Home Secretary, James Cleverly MP, dated 1st March 2024, expresses concerns that the guidelines fail to provide adequate assurance or practical guidance to residents and firefighters, particularly in scenarios reminiscent of the Grenfell Tower tragedy.

Details from the letter

The letter, penned by Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, states: “These guidelines will not reassure residents in high-rise buildings. They do not help disabled and vulnerable residents.

“These guidelines do not explain to incident commanders how to evacuate high-rise buildings.”

The union emphasises that the guidelines, which are the result of a joint Home Office and Department for Levelling Up Housing and Communities technical steering group formed in December 2019, fall short in several critical areas.

The FBU criticises the guidelines for their brevity and lack of substance, noting that they consist of just nine pages and fail to address key issues such as the protection of fire exit routes and specific evacuation procedures for people unable to use stairs.

FBU’s  stance on evacuation guidelines

Wrack further remarked in the letter: “It is a disgrace that more than four years after the GTI report, the Home Office can only manage a publication of nine pages in length containing so little of real substance.”

The FBU’s stance is that the guidelines, while summarising some basic evacuation principles, offer little in the way of new or substantial information that would assist fire and rescue services in effectively planning and executing evacuations in high-rise buildings.

The union also expresses disappointment in the live test exercises conducted by the Home Office, describing them as unrealistic and not representative of conditions in a disaster similar to the Grenfell Tower fire.

IFSJ Comment

The Fire Brigades Union’s critique of the Home Office’s evacuation guidelines highlights ongoing challenges in ensuring the safety of residents in high-rise buildings, especially in emergency situations.

The Union’s call for more comprehensive and practical guidance reflects the need for robust policies that address the complexities of high-rise evacuations, including the needs of vulnerable residents.

This situation underscores the importance of continuous improvement in fire safety standards and the vital role of fire and rescue services in protecting the public.

The FBU’s input, as a body representing frontline firefighters, is crucial in shaping effective and realistic fire safety policies.

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