FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack has issued the following statement, commenting on the testimony given to the Grenfell Tower Inquiry by Watch Manager Mike Dowden.
Wrack said: ‘Watch Manager Mike Dowden has shown himself to be a very honest man.
‘He has answered all questions to the best of his ability. ‘He is a professional, brave and honourable person. ‘We are proud to have him as a member of the Fire Brigades Union. ‘There clearly are important and difficult questions to ask but they should not be directed at those who do not have the power or authority to have altered policies, operational procedures or training.
‘The line of questioning toward Mike Dowden has been, at times, absurd.
‘Mike Dowden is not in any way a “Fire Chief” as has been reported in the media in recent days. In fire service structures, he is a junior officer. ‘He is not a middle manager and he is not a strategic or principal manager. ‘On the night of the fire he was originally in charge of two fire engines at one fire station.
‘Let’s remember that Mike Dowden did not apply flammable cladding to Grenfell Tower. ‘Nor did he make the other alterations which destroyed the fire safety within the building. ‘Nor did he start the fire. ‘He was simply on duty when the worst fire since World War Two broke out. Like all firefighters that night, he was placed in an impossible situation. ‘He did what they all did; he tried his utmost to save lives.
‘The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is approaching issues back to front. ‘It is self-evident that the disaster at Grenfell Tower was a result of the building having been altered. ‘While there have been expert reports provided on these issues, the inquiry is looking at the events of the night rather than the decisions which led to it.
‘Those who made the decisions have yet to been called to give evidence. ‘If the “Stay put” approach failed, it failed as soon as flammable cladding was installed on the building. ‘The alterations to Grenfell Tower happened before the fire and before any firefighting took place. ‘The order of the inquiry is chronologically and causally wrong.’
In a circular to members on Wednesday, Wrack said: ‘Dear Brother / Sister
‘Grenfell Tower Inquiry – FBU Intervention and Support for Members ‘The Grenfell Tower Inquiry (GTI) has begun to take evidence from firefighters. FBU members across the country have expressed alarm at how some of the questioning and cross-examination of the first firefighter witness, Brother Michael Dowden, has been conducted. This circular sets out the arrangements at the GTI and the support for FBU members attending.
‘The FBU has previously set out a range of concerns about the inquiry, its terms of reference and how it might be conducted. The Executive Council is regularly briefed on all developments and is keeping the process under review. This includes the question of whether the union will support and cooperate with the inquiry or advise FBU members to do so. While we support a thorough examination of every aspect of what happened at Grenfell, this must be done fairly. This includes questions about the order in which issues are addressed and how this is done.
‘The union has invested considerable effort into preparing for the GTI and considering the support needed for FBU members. ‘At the inquiry, there is a legal team for the FBU. This includes solicitors from Thompsons as well as the union’s counsel, Martin Seward. At least two Regional Officials from London are in attendance on all occasions, including travelling to the venue with FBU members where this is appropriate. Either myself (General Secretary) or another National Official is in attendance on all occasions, including meeting FBU members giving evidence.
‘In addition, the union has liaised closely with the London Fire Brigade regarding the welfare of all those involved and will continue to monitor this. ‘The FBU is a Core Participant to the GTI. This gives certain legal rights and provides the opportunity to make representation, where appropriate, to the Inquiry legal team or officials. This will be done as and when necessary.
‘We are constrained from commenting on witness evidence until each witness has concluded. There are also various other legal considerations in relation to what can and should be said by the union at each stage. ‘Nevertheless, we shall address the issues raised by the GTI as we are able to do so and at the earliest opportunity at each stage. ‘We will shortly make comment on the evidence heard so far.’
• Merseyside FBU launched an anti-cuts campaign at 6.30pm yesterday outside The Boardroom, Jack Jones House, 2 Churchill Way, Liverpool L3 8EF The campaign has been launched by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to stop alarming budget cuts to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service which has seen the number of firefighters and fire appliances fall dramatically.
Current spending plans mean that between 2010 and 2020 firefighter numbers will reduce by 37% from 927 to 580 and almost half of all fire appliances will be axed, from 42 to 22. Since 2010, there has been an overall upward trend in fire deaths in Merseyside. Between 2010/11 there were five fire deaths. This increased to 16 during 2015/16. Mark Rowe, regional secretary of the FBU in North West England, said: ‘The relentless cuts to Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service mean we have now passed beyond crisis point.
‘Further cuts will result in Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service not being fit for purpose.
‘The cuts put the public and firefighters at increased risk of serious injury, or worse, on a daily basis.’ Members of Parliament attended the campaign launch including Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden. A raft of stations in Merseyside have closed, or been earmarked for closure, including West Kirby, Allerton, Whiston, Huyton, Eccleston, Upton and St Helens.
Cuts have also meant the size of fire crews has decreased to just four firefighters, rather than five, severely limiting the response they can provide at emergency incidents.