Grenfell Tower concerns prompt rise in fire units sent to high-rise blazes

The number of fire units sent to high-rise fires has increased in response to cladding concerns following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said.

In future high-rise blazes an aerial appliance will be dispatched automatically, the LFB said, after the BBC reported a high ladder did not appear on the scene until half an hour after the first fire crews were sent.

More than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines rescued 65 people from the June 14 blaze, in which at least 80 people died. 

Latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) reveal that more than 200 buildings in 55 local authority areas have failed combustibility tests rolled out by the Government after the fire.

A spokeswoman for the LFB said: "On June 22, an interim change to pre-determined attendance for high-rise buildings was introduced. This was in direct response to the Government's action to address concerns of cladding on buildings.

"With immediate effect, any pre-determined response to a high-rise building fire was increased from four fire engines to five fire engines and one aerial appliance."

Fires in high rise buildings were "nearly always dealt with internally, not usually needing an aerial appliance", the LFB added.  

It comes as a BBC Newsnight investigation said it had learned that a so-called "aerial" or high ladder did not arrive at the scene until more than half an hour after the first fire crews were dispatched. 

Firefighters were also said to have told the programme they experienced problems with equipment and water pressure. 

A Thames Water spokesman said: "Any suggestion there was low pressure or that Thames Water did not supply enough water to fire services during this appalling tragedy is categorically false."

An LFB spokeswoman said the investigation into the fire would examine the brigade's response, including "all of the issues Newsnight have raised".

The brigade confirmed that an additional aerial ladder was sent from Surrey Fire and Rescue Service to assist in the effort, but did not say what time its own first aerial ladder arrived. 

It said there was much detail it could not comment on due to the ongoing investigation, adding that LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said she would "fully review" the brigade's resources.

The "fundamental issue" of high-rise safety remained that buildings were maintained to stop fires spreading, it added. 

Meanwhile, it was announced that further testing would be undertaken urgently as it emerged all 203 cladding samples sent in from around the country failed the tests. 

The new tests, recommended by an independent expert safety panel, will look out how different combinations of cladding panel and insulation types react in "severe fire" conditions. 

It is suspected that Aluminium Composite Material panels on the outside of Grenfell Tower fuelled the spread of the fatal blaze, acting as kindling once the fire took hold.

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