Incoming London fire chief to prioritise rebuilding trust of Grenfell community

London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) incoming commissioner says “reaching out” and rebuilding the trust of the Grenfell community will be his first priority when he takes on the role next year.

Andy Roe, who will replace Dany Cotton as London Fire Commissioner on January 1, faced questions from London Assembly members following the publication of a “damning” report into the LFB.

The review said the brigade – the country’s largest fire service – had been “slow to implement changes” following the Grenfell Tower disaster in 2017, which left 72 people dead.

Mr Roe, who has served with the LFB since 2002, told the assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee on Tuesday that he “accepts” the report’s findings, and stressed that the changes needed “will be made”.

Tower block fire in London
Andy Roe, who will become the new London Fire Commissioner (Ian West/PA)

He said his main priorities as commissioner for the new year include making improvements to the culture and leadership within the brigade, and delivering the Grenfell Inquiry report recommendations in full.

But he added: “The first thing I must do as a priority is reach out personally to the Grenfell community, because I think we have lost, in some ways at a corporate level, the trust of that community, and that must be rebuilt so wider London has confidence in our service.

“That will happen early in the new year.”

Mr Roe, who currently serves as deputy commissioner for operations, said the LFB will also run a series of fire survival guidance training exercises in 2020 to practice emergency evacuation and rescue in high rise buildings.

He said the training will have a “particular focus” on how the service passes information on survival guidance between its control room and incident commanders.

The review of LFB, conducted by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, was particularly scathing of its current effectiveness for protecting the public through fire regulation.

Tower block fire in London
London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton, who will step down from her role at the end of December (Yui Mok/PA)

It did not make explicit reference to the brigade’s much-condemned “stay put” policy, when Grenfell residents were told to remain in their flats by firefighters and 999 operators for nearly two hours after the blaze broke out.

Grenfell Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick subsequently identified that more lives could have been saved had the policy been abandoned sooner.

Speaking at the committee meeting, assembly member Susan Hall described the report as “damming and very, very concerning for all of us”.

She added it was a “real shame” the confirmation hearing to appoint Mr Roe as commissioner was taking place on the same day of the report’s publication, which had left members with little time to read it.

The assembly voted unanimously in favour of recommending for the Mayor of London to proceed with appointing Mr Roe as commissioner.

The former army officer will replace the existing commissioner Ms Cotton, who had been facing pressure to resign from bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell blaze.

The first report from the Grenfell Inquiry found that LFB’s preparation for a tower block fire such as Grenfell was “gravely inadequate” and its lack of an evacuation plan was a “major omission”.

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