Former firefighter calls for urgent action on cladding to avoid another Grenfell-style tragedy in Leeds

A Leeds city councillor gave an impassioned speech on the state of fire services, warning that cuts over the years could make it difficult to adequately deal with a major high-rise tower block blaze in the city.

Thursday, 12th November 2020, 4:33 pm
Updated Thursday, 12th November 2020, 4:34 pm

The comments came during a Leeds City Council debate, in which Labour councillors called on the Government to put pressure on developers and building owners to remove potentially dangerous ACM cladding from high-rise housing blocks.

Coun Paul Drinkwater (Lab) worked for many years as a firefighter at Stanks Fire Station, which shut down in 2015, and warned dangerous cladding urgently needed to be removed to avoid a repeat of the kind of fire which engulfed Grenfell Tower in 2017.

He said: “I dragged someone out of a flat that was on fire, I have been in buildings that started to collapse, I have searched in the pitch black smoke for something I didn’t want to find.

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Coun Drinkwater said more needs to be done to avoid another Grenfell-style tragedy.

“I felt the pain of not being able to save a life. I stood in silence to mourn colleagues from other brigades who died in high rise fires. There are many experiences that I would like to forget, some of which haunt me from time to time.

“In Grenfell, the fire spread over 19 floors in just 12 minutes, and entered 20 flats. Think about the response times needed to fight a fire of that magnitude. Could this happen in Leeds?”

Coun Drinkwater went on to list cuts to fire cover in Leeds over recent years, including the closure of Stanks; the downgrading of Morley, Rawdon, Wetherby, Garforth and Rothwell stations and the cutting of appliances in Stanningley and Moortown.

Addressing fellow councillors, he added: “Firefighting is a team game. The attendance required at a high rise fire is four firefighting applicances and an aerial appliance. For a dangerously-cladded building, it is six appliances and an aerial – that is just to start work.

“Where would they come from if this happened in your ward?”

“Firefighters who attended Grenfell had to live with the sight and sound of people calling for help, knowing they could not be reached or saved.

“A similar incident could take place here. We need urgent action.”