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The politics of a tragedy

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A. Andros

Belay the socio-political analysis of this tragedy --- especially the nonsense about exploited foreign workers. This is not an example of social immorality. It is an example of municipal incompetence.
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In the USA such a building would be classified by the National Board of Fire Underwriters as "Light Fire Resistant" with a PML ("Probable Maximum Loss") of four floor subject. (In fact nearly all American high-rise apartment buildings are classified as XP with only two floors subject.)
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The tapes of this disaster show a building fully aflame from the first floor to the very top floor.These images are horrifying!
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But, the cause of the tragedy was not callous disregard for Muslim immigrants The cause was the incompetence of whatever political entity had responsibility to make and enforce fire-code in London.
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No, there were no outside fire escapes -- and for good reason. A twenty-story hike down hundreds of feet of burning building would have been deadly to anyone who tried it. That is why modern buildings contain an internal "fire tower," down which inhabitants can make a relatively safe evacuation. Why wasn't such a thing known to all in the building and if known, why wasn't it a safe passage?
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Who the hell today builds a twenty-story residential building without at least a sprinkler system with a 165 degree fusible link sprinkler head? This is about as basic as fire-fighting technology gets! And, if such a thing was not installed then what does this say about the competence of local political authority?
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This terrible tragedy does not suggest callous disregard of recent immigrants. It DOES suggest massive incompetence on the part of whatever governance has jurisdiction in that part of London.

CA-Oxonian

There's nothing wrong with the concept of contracting out, provided that proper regulation is in place to ensure that profit-oriented cost-paring doesn't result in the kind of abomination London has just witnessed. One of the major problems of our species is that very few have the capacity for forward thinking; whatever seems expedient at the time is generally what is adopted, and that is very often a mistake.

So while it's important to learn the lessons this awful event can teach us, it's even more important to find ways to improve our cognitive performance in general so that such infantile blunders can be somewhat minimized in future times. The very fact that London can be weighed down with thousands of CCTV cameras yet a tower block can be employed without even a sprinkler system in place is a reflection of the kinds of bad thinking that comes from reacting to drama rather than to serious cost-benefit analysis. Every robbery and terrorist event increases the clamor for ever-more cameras and armed police, yet as we've just seen far more lives can be lost through lack of something as basic as a cheap sprinkler system. But until this week, cheap sprinkler systems didn't make the headlines and didn't get people all worked up and so didn't register in the minds of policy-makers.

So the core lesson really is: more basic thinking, less TV-inspired reacting to the latest drama-du-jour.

Langosta

The fire happened on Tuesday night. That coincidentally happened to be the only time in my life when I happened to be in a tavern talking to a retired designer of sprinkler systems. These are a big deal in U.S. commercial and residential constructions. Fires are very common in high rise buildings. People put plastic dishes on their stoves, turn them own, and then go shopping. In a few minutes the kitchen is on fire. Or, they throw hot coals from a illicit bathtub barbeque down the trash chute. There's always going to be at least one moron in a highrise building, and building designers are obligated to protect the other remaining residents from him/her.

guest-wommjjo in reply to A. Andros

Deadly municipal incompetence=immorality, cf Flint, MI, where manslaughter charges have been brought. Blaming it on bad government is a typical Tory out - see, if we just had less government, mirabile dictu, problem solved. Nonsense. The problem is the constituents had no constituency - no one in government who saw them as people. The privatization of management was certainly a major factor in their deaths. Privatization means no accountability. See, as one of many multitudes of examples of this, the mass deaths caused by Blackwater in Iraq, as well as the reason why the TSA was created in the US, so airlines no longer provided airport security, where cost-cutting, as it always in private business, was a standard practice.

QmYjcQVrhg

'lives are being lost for the sake of a saving of £5,000'
Well done, the Government and Mayor of London can now cancel that Public Inquiry

opubo in reply to A. Andros

Local authority in London, cannot do something that the national government doesn't want. The national government (under the Conservatives) and the local government (under Conservatives) both wanted cuts and got cuts.

Recommendations had been made by local fire agency which was overruled by the mayor (Boris Johnson) as these recommendations made cuts impossible.

A report had been created by MPs (all parties) in 2013 but has never been implemented or even talked about.

The material which allegedly spread the fire has a fire-resistant option, which would have cost just 5000 pounds extra for the whole building.

Residents had made numerous complaints about the conduct of the operating company to the local council but to were always dismissed.

perguntador

"The fire revealed the world of London’s growing service class: the immigrants, refugees and casual labourers who are warehoused in (in this case unsafe) social housing so that they can provide the over-class of surrounding Kensington with drivers, cleaners, hairdressers and pedicurists."

Looks like Brazil, with a few tweaks: immigrants here will be mainly from the poor Northwestern states, not other countries; and our "social housing" will be mostly the favelas of Rio de Janeiro's seaside mountains and São Paulo's outer ring of slums.

You forgot to include nannies and house servants among the casual labourers. As for surrounding Kensington, we have down here the beautiful Ipanemas and Leblons of Rio, or the posh Jardins in São Paulo.

Welcome to the Third World, Bagehot.

u39b in reply to CA-Oxonian

Indeed: proper regulation is the necessary underpinning. Simply not cladding the exterior of the building in flammable insulation blocks, would have been sufficient in this instance to avoid any loss of life. Firefighters arrived in just six minutes, and could have contained the fire in the third floor apartment where it began, if only the fire hadn't spread to the insulation... where it quickly engulfed one side of the building, pushing enough smoke back into the building to make the stairwell impassible.
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In Germany, there is stricter use on cladding materials used in high buildings (specifically to control for flammability), and where moderately flammable cladding insulation is used it's a requirement to install firebreaks between floors (in the external cladding).
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As for CCTV and video technology... see the livestreamed (via Facebook) account of an Oxford graduate, caught inside the building on the 23rd floor, with her family:
https://www.facebook.com/ribrham?ref=br_rs
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She, her family, and other families like hers, didn't stand a chance.
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Those involved in maintenance and renovation of the building did not see safety as their concern. Dozens of people died. Hundreds more might die over coming decades, if similar practices persist. Either through obligation on building maintainers to buy third party insurance of sufficient quality (hopefully creating a market pressure for risk reducing measures), or through direct regulation (of a more German quality), it must become clear to relevant parties that what's most expedient, going forward, will be to pay sufficient attention to fire safety.

perguntador

the immigrants, refugees and casual labourers who are warehoused in (in this case unsafe) social housing so that they can provide the over-class of surrounding Kensington with drivers, cleaners, hairdressers and pedicurists.

SbuJYfHbPk

Socialists will blame any disaster such as this on the privatization model. They forget that Ronan Point (an earlier disaster due to shoddy building) was in public ownership as was Lakanal House in Southwark. And that many of the blocks were built in the 1960s and 1970s due to local government corruption in cities such as Birmingham. Sorry, but if you think privatization corrupts and leads to corner-cutting - just try socialism.
So the privatization model is fine. It is the regulatory aspect to it that requires bolstering. Governments (local or otherwise) should not build houses. They should decide what needs to be built and then regulate those doing the building (and running) of the stock. To focus on the entire model, rather than the element of the model that had the flaw, is to play the hard left's tune. If we have to refight these battles - again - we will all be losers.

ý@ýýýýH

[...There was no external fire-escape to take them to safety.]

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How an external fire-escape can lead them to safety in this particular case makes me scratch my head!

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Devil's

guest-ooielno

And why on earth shouldn't Corbyn use the tragedy for political ends? In order to avert such disasters in the future, its root causes must be tackled, and those root causes consist of the political choices made in britain over the recent decades. The fire was made possible by the politics of neo-liberalism started by Thatcher, and continued by Blair and Cameron.

I quoted Jonathan Freedland's Friday column in a comment post I made on another article, and would like to do so again:

"You can ignore those who say it’s wrong, or too soon, to politicise Grenfell Tower. That’s always the refrain of those who understand that a raw moment such as this brings great clarity, suddenly exposing in vivid colour a reality that, for many, may have been abstract. Such people want the moment to pass, for the national gaze to move on, so that they can return to business as usual. Which is why now is exactly the time to talk about what this blaze has illuminated. ...

"Grenfell Tower should mark a point of no return. No return to the frenzied deregulation, cost-cutting and rampant inequality of the last four decades. These are not new evils. They have been lurking for many years. But it took the light of a burning building for the whole nation to see them."

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jun/16/grenfell-tower-reb...

guest-oololjo

Notice in the photo that there are some very similar-looking tower blocks in the distance. (And there are plenty of tower blocks no less safe (maybe less so) than Grenfell Towers). Now what would an Islamist terrorist be thinking (if they can manage the deduction) about how to kill a very large number of people? If (IF?) an exploding fridge can set that train of grisly destruction into motion, how about taking a few gallons of gasoline into one of those buildings at 2am and starting an inferno on the ground/first floor? Not difficult to work out is it. Even a crazy could work it out. I think the Government have got more of an issue than dealing with the cladding (except, it is clear that all that flammable stuff is going to have to be torn off and replaced). I'm no expert on fires, but I think in that tower you saw two simultaneous, and also exacerbating conflagrations. Irrespective of the cladding, a tower block like Grenfell can burn fiercely.

Steve Weinstein

"That alliance will be difficult to preserve if taxes and rates have to rise substantially to improve safety." That's a rather strange statement after noting that proper fireproofing for this building would have cost all of £5,000.

derek5 in reply to A. Andros

I am not sure if this is incompetence of a local government. Houses and buildings in the UK are often of rather low quality, with limited maintenance, make-shift repairs, and limited modernization.
It seems rather that central government is in denial. Safety of buildings is in firs instance a national regulatory issue, enforcement needs to follow. Regulation and enforcement have to be driven at state or country level.

This may be partially a cultural issue, partially a governmental one. And Tory governments in particular are not in favor of safety regulations.