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#ThinkingAllowed: Grenfell Tower: A lesson for us all

Water is sprayed on Grenfell Tower in west London

When Grenfell Tower in North London was burning we all looked in shock and horror.  How could it be possible?  As the building became engulfed in flames we all knew the inevitable – not everyone would be able to get out alive.  The death toll here would be serious. 
The country is in a state of debate about the cladding and other fire safety issues.  The full scope of the inquiry and who will lead it is yet to be confirmed but everyone knows there are many questions which need answers.
In the wake of the tragedy the Gibraltar Government ordered a complete fire safety review of all Government-owned high rise buildings. 
The Chief Minister said he and his team were doing everything they can to ensure that “there is not a tragedy like the one we’ve seen” in any of our local estates in the future.
But, fire safety is not only the responsibility of the government and Fire Safety units – it’s also the responsibility of each and every single one of us.
Deciding on the quality of materials used, planning evacuation routes etc… is theirs, adhering to the terms of tenancy agreements is OURS.
Residents of government-owned estates have been receiving letters asking them to clear communal areas.  This is not a knee-jerk reaction.  To be honest it’s well overdue. Grenfell has just been the catalyst.
We should never have to wait for a tragedy to happen in order to take action.  Having clear evacuation routes can save lives.  I’m always shocked by the number of bicycles and other items that people chain to railings outside their front doors.  Storing things in corridors and staircases not only blocks escape routes it may also stop proper access for firefighters to do their job.
People, particularly those who live in high-rise buildings, will naturally have concerns.  London Fire Brigade have been flooded with questions about whether it’s safe to live in tower blocks. 
In a recent statement they said they could “fully understand why people who live in high rises have questions about their safety” but stressed that “thankfully, fires are rare.  However, it’s vitally important to know your fire escape plan and where to turn to if you have concerns.”
This advice is not only for those living in high rise buildings, it can be applied to our everyday lives at work or on holiday.  How many of us check evacuation routes in a hotel when we arrive at our rooms?
The Grenfell Tower fire should never have spread in the way it did – the reality is that no matter the evacuation routes, in this case, dozens never stood a chance of getting out alive.
This tragedy has also opened other areas of debate including one about the media.
Some reporters have faced angry questions from residents.  They all appeared at the scene during the fire and in the immediate aftermath.  People questioned where they all were whilst they raised concerns for years.  It’s why the role of the local reporter (widely being lost in the UK) remains as important today as it did in the pre-digital age.
There seems to be less time (and money) for journalists to spend time at local council meetings or covering smaller patches.  It’s a good lesson for us in Gibraltar and why the role of journalists in a small jurisdiction like ours remains vital.  We are, and need to remain being, the eyes and ears of the community.  Outlets like this newspaper and GBC have important roles to fulfil. 
As Emily Bell wrote in The Guardian this week: “The stories which expose the causes of the fire, however they emerge, will not make up for the lack of the stories that might have stopped it in the first place.”
The reality is we won’t know if that’s the case but informing the public properly in an age where there is a lot of misinformation remains crucial.
Unfortunately, Grenfell Towers was also a reminder that disaster seems to strike more often the most vulnerable in society and poorest communities.
The journalists will be gone from the scene soon, the hardship for families displaced or who lost loved ones may be a life-long struggle.
No matter what anyone now says or does – it just cannot be put right.

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