DANY Cotton, the first female head of the London Fire Brigade, is to retire at age 50 on a full pension after a damning 1,000-page report on the Grenfell Tower fire. In it Ms Cotton was castigated and accused of ‘remarkable insensitivity’ after she gave testimony to the inquiry into the disaster insisting she would have done nothing differently.
She said that nothing could have prepared firefighters for the task and that they were put in an untenable situation in a building ‘that behaved in a way it should never have done’. She added: ‘I wouldn’t develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard.’
Seventy-two people died in the 2017 fire, and the report concluded that the toll would have been lower if the Brigade’s response had not been marked by ‘serious shortcomings’ and ‘systemic failures’, though retired appeal court judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who chaired the public inquiry, praised the heroism of individual firefighters in repeatedly entering the burning building to save lives.
The report found that despite the LFB losing control of the fire, residents continued to be advised to stay in their flats for nearly two hours in accordance with Fire Brigade policy. Sir Martin said: ‘The “stay put” concept had become an article of faith within the LFB so powerful that to depart from it was to all intents and purposes unthinkable.’
Ms Cotton had already announced her resignation after 32 years in the fire service, having been warned of the report’s negative findings. Her responses to the inquiry suggested that it was not her wisdom and experience that led to her appointment as the LFB’s first female commissioner, but the fact that she is a woman. Showered with praise and awards, her most noteworthy public interventions seem to have been to challenge ITV’s Love Island for its ‘offensive’ portrayal of musclebound firemen and to campaign for Fireman Sam to be re-titled Firefighter Sam.
It cannot be mere coincidence that in a Fire Brigade that prioritises political correctness, no high-ranking individual was willing to challenge what had become an ‘article of faith’ on that fateful night. This is what happens when they value conformity over the service they were formed to carry out – protecting the public from fire – and instead of encouraging firefighters to think for themselves in response to the developing emergency, simply to tick an ever-expanding number of PC boxes. But then, to be PC nowadays seems to involve demanding the right to kill, rather than prioritising the duty to save life.
We are used to the image of brave firefighters sliding down the pole to respond swiftly to an emergency, but unless our public institutions return to their original purpose and junk their faith in diversity, we will have to get used to the sight of them clambering up the greasy PC pole to reach the upper echelons of the Fire Brigade, and when they reach those dizzy heights, to see them frozen in irresolution because there is no one to tell them what to do when fires – which are notoriously free-thinking – refuse to follow their ‘articles of faith’. And then to watch them being handsomely rewarded for it.