Cotton Dud

I’ve written before about Dany Cotton, the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade:

Her professional biography seems to be a lot more about being a woman than a firefighter.

So how’s she getting on?

Relatives of Grenfell Tower victims today called for the embattled London Fire Brigade chief and other senior officers to be prosecuted over the inferno.

Nazanin Aghlani, who lost two family members in the blaze in West London in June 2017, said the LFB was ‘the hands of people that are incapable of their jobs’.

But the embattled London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton refused to quit as she apologised for causing ‘additional hurt’ to families of Grenfell Tower victims.

Miss Cotton, who had defended the fatal advice for residents to ‘stay put’, plans to retire next April aged 50 on a pension worth up to £2million.

She admitted the LFB would ‘do different things’ after learning lessons following the inferno, but refused to quit, saying she wanted to ‘continue to protect the people of London’ and insisted she was ‘standing here and taking responsibility’.

It comes after the report concluded that the LFB breached national guidelines over its ‘gravely inadequate’ preparations and did not have a plan to evacuate the tower.

I don’t know how much the LFB really are to blame for the deaths in the Grenfell Tower fire, but it looks as though this Cotton woman was completely out of her depth. And I can’t but help notice that her “taking responsibility” by staying in her post until she collects her hefty pension looks a lot like that of her Metropolitan Police counterpart Cressida Dick’s “taking responsibility” for the umpteen failures on her watch. These people haven’t a shred of personal integrity, nor an ounce of shame.

Not that I don’t think the whole Grenfell Tower incident hasn’t been a wall-to-wall demonstration of the failings of the modern British state and wider society, from the number of people who were in the tower to the dodgy “green” cladding, from the blatant fraud which followed to the sight of foreign activists demanding the national government resign, from the lack of curiosity over how the fire started to the prosecution of people who didn’t get the memo that the charred remains have been consecrated.

Home appliance firm Whirlpool faces a potential multi-million pound lawsuit after the Grenfell report found a faulty fridge freezer sparked the inferno after Sir Martin dismissed their ‘fanciful’ claim fire was caused by a cigarette;

Just that one fridge freezer, eh? Would have thought a fault like that would have occurred in a number of them. How handy that a major corporation with deep pockets is in the firing line for a hefty compensation claim.

The Grenfell Grift will go on for years, but if it claims the scalp of a useless diversity hire at the head of the LFB, I’ll not shed too many tears. I suspect those who actually turned out to tackle the blaze did brilliantly though, insofar as they were permitted to.

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30 thoughts on “Cotton Dud

  1. I was prepared, equivocally, to defend her. Then I heard she has a £2m pension pot.

    It’s wonderful how commie-ism turns me into a hatchet-faced class warrior.

  2. Off topic, but the Dilbert installment today was hilarious. I thought of you immediately, Tim.

  3. Off topic, but the Dilbert installment today was hilarious. I thought of you immediately, Tim.

    Lol, I just saw it!

  4. In one senior role I had in a startup we had built a broadband consumer device for use in broadband radio trial we were conducting. We had a bit of a scare as the unit got hot in one place and the more excitable members of the team started talking about product withdrawals and risks from babies getting burned etc. This was particular concern because our parent was an international company with a good brand.

    I did a lot of research in to the temperature side of it looking at both RoSPA and the HSE guidelines. I also had a good look at product liability with our internal and external lawyers and the manufacturers lawyers.

    The upshot of all that was you have to show design fault and negligence but what we had really wasn’t a risk anyway.

    All that is to say that unless they can show that the Whirpool product had a known defect that Whirlpool had been hiding, I suspect any attempt to go after Whirlpool will be a letter referring the claimants to Arkell v Pressdram.

    IANAL

  5. I suspect any attempt to go after Whirlpool will be a letter referring the claimants to Arkell v Pressdram.

    Well, yes. And I’m sure any defense against a claim for damages won’t focus only on the cause of the fire but all the factors which made it become so deadly – which nobody wants to take any responsibility for. It’s hard to see how Whirlpool is responsible for the role the cladding played, for example.

  6. “…standing here and taking responsibility.” Meaning she is not quitting nor getting fired, she is still going to get her huge pension, and is she facing no criminal or civil penalties. But she is taking responsibility.

  7. It is a strange place, this world we live in. Hundreds of years ago, Europeans ran the African slave trade. So today we try to atone for other people’s ancient sins by — promoting the white daughters of privilege into positions for which they are clearly unsuited?

    I have absolutely no problem with every person rising to the highest level he or she can reach on his or her own merits, regardless of gender, skin tone, accent, whatever. But it does not help the cause when individual women get the top job mainly because they were the only ones around with breasts.

  8. While I’m no defender of Cotton, or the box-ticking quota filling incompetents she so strongly brings to mind…..Amber 15W Bulb, for example. Or Olive Leftwing, for another, Mr Polltax, how well did that turn out?

    Have some sympathy. It’s very easy with 20/20 hindsight, excellent video, and months of thought, to second guess what happened on the night, in a very confused situation, with no time to stop and ponder. Everyone has perfect hindsight.

    Think of you, in that hot seat, with streams of information, some of which may be true, some hopelessly exaggerated, stress, panic, politicians, trying to keep everything under control…what would YOU do.
    The agreed procedure was containment: stay put. To issue a change to the agreed procedure was an huge personal risk. One dead in the evacuation, and it’s your decision Wot Did It. You ignored SOP.
    No one would make such a change in Standard Procedure at a whim.
    And indeed, people did die in the evacuation. Had the fire turned out not so big, she would have been crucified for panicking and causing the “unnecessary” evacuations deaths.

    Yes. I’ve been in that seat. I will dream it until my dying day, and my outcome was 100% OK, sort of. She had a losing hand, however she played it. Could have been played a lot worse. It wasn’t the Fire Brigade that wrapped the building in fuel, nor lit the blue touch paper. Nor allowed the tenants to disable so many of the Fire Doors.

    She has my every sympathy with the magnitude of *this* decision, and the huge consequences she faced when she took it.

    Could she have taken it earlier? Should she have taken it earlier?
    But we live in a world of SOP and manslaughter charges if you deviate from SOP, so all credit that she did deviate at all.

    If we insist on making her the scapegoat for this incident, what message are we sending? And what grade of people will be left to fill such crucial leadership roles. Be careful what you wish for, because you will probably get it.

    And no, none of that excuses all the other aspects of this quota-based appointment system. Since when did competence become not just optional, but a positive disadvantage?

  9. “Miss Cotton … plans to retire next April aged 50 on a pension worth up to £2million.”

    Slightly off topic: If the lass went into full-time work at age 20, and worked the standard 2,000 hours per year — that 2 Million Pound pension translates to about 33 extra Pounds for every hour she worked, on top of whatever salary the taxpayers threw at her during her 30 year working career.

    Sustainable? Reasonable??

  10. So my nephew recently finished his masters in International Terrorism. Two of the guest speakers who presented on the course had attended Grenfell. One was a fireman who said that after the fire, the room where it started was off limits to all fire service personnel. He said that was the first time that had happened in his career, The second was a copper, SOCA or NCA (ex Special Branch I think). He said that an analysis of the room where the fire started contained the precursor chemicals to home made explosives.

    But maybe it was a one-off fridge fault.

  11. Think of you, in that hot seat, with streams of information, some of which may be true, some hopelessly exaggerated, stress, panic, politicians, trying to keep everything under control…what would YOU do.

    I agree, she was in one hell of a position.

    But what I don’t see here – nor in any other institution in the UK – is a professional, well-drilled organisation constantly striving for the highest standards run by people who are promoted solely on merit demonstrate leadership coupled with sound management. If I did, I’d have a lot of sympathy for whoever landed in the hot seat.

    Instead, I see your typical over-promoted diversity token heading an organisation which has been shown to have failed on multiple fronts, which it was always going to under such “leadership” as soon as it was presented with something remotely difficult. It’s not so much about the failings of Cotton insomuch as an organisation of that size with her at the head is destined to fail at the first major hurdle. She’s a symptom, not a cause.

  12. But maybe it was a one-off fridge fault.

    I’d put money on it being 1) someone cooking up drugs of some sort; 2) someone messing about with explosives; 3) someone cooking over an open fire.

    I’d put even more money on the authorities lying through their teeth to the public if it were any of the above.

  13. The other aspect to this is you cannot just totally change a plan on the fly.
    Order + Counterorder = Disorder.
    Once the changed decision is made, it takes time and planning before it can be safely enacted.

    So quite apart from the arse-covering necessary to deviate from the agreed ‘containment’ strategy, the decision requires it to be coordinated with all firemen on site.

    Otherwise, you will still have firefighters attempting to ‘contain’ the fire on one side of the building, driving it into the face of the other guys attempting the new ‘rescue’ strategy. Cue further tragedy.
    How well would a bunch of dead firemen have gone down?

    So of all the box-ticking process-based braindrivel of modern management, the report have appears to have focussed on the one aspect least relevant. How surprising.
    But then, you cannot have the system being criticised. Much better to select individual scapegoat and threaten or bribe to ensure they get with the script.

    The Fridge manufacturer is in for a grim time, yet no one will be able to say the fridge had not been incompetently modified or “repaired” quite apart from the crack and peroxide alternative stories.

    Is there any evidence of the fridge’s involvement, apart from hearsay? The flat occupant might not be entirely reliable in this respect maybe?

  14. Some comments on Grenfell Tower and fire brigade responsibility.
    1) Fire regulations require that Grenfell Tower will have been built with a protected escape route. That means firecheck, self closing doors on both the individual rooms in apartments & their doors opening onto to common areas & the doors to the stairwell. Thus a fire in an apartment room would have to burn through three sets of doors to threaten the escape route. If they perform according to the spec required that’s a minimum 3 hours. Internal walls should have an equivalent firecheck rating. Current regs require intumescent strips on the edges of all firecheck doors which swell with heat to prevent smoke passage. Some retrofitting must have been done in 50 years, surely?
    There should also be adequate fire extinguishers to deal with local fires
    2)So it should be possible to evacuate the structure even if the outside was alight. . No doubt the evacuation plans the fire brigade made were based on this.
    But the very big but.
    3)I’ve been in these buildings. It’s common for tenants to wedge self closing internal doors open. Or disable the spring self closing mechanisms. They often do the latter with the entry doors to the apartments. Or either with the access doors to the stairwell. The escape routes are supposed to be free of obstructions. I’ve seen stairwells used as bike parks with bikes chained and locked to the handrails. Ditto prams, pushchairs & liberated supermarket carts used for moving shopping. They’re used as rubbish dumps for beds & large furniture. Boxes & bags of trash. A lot of the tenants in these big multiple-occupancy structures are from what we could say is the developing world ( to be kind). They have an entirely different attitude to common areas. It’s not unusual to see them set up as annexes to the apartments in them with furniture etc. Even seen them used as supplementary sleeping accommodation with mattresses & bedding.
    This defeats the entire principal of firechecking.
    4)Fire certification is, or should be, a periodic process. Not a one off assessment. Buildings & apartments within buildings should be regularly checked. There are the regulatory powers to do so. This may be the responsibility of the local authority or the fire brigade. When I had to deal with obtaining fire certification, outer London boroughs it was the local authority you dealt with. Inner London, the fire brigade. Last time I looked, Ken & Chelsea was Inner London. Unless they moved it. A building that fails its fire inspection does not have a fire certificate. It is not, by definition, habitable. The building managers should go about rectifying the problem smartish, or they won’t have a residential building to manage. Just a landmark.

    So who was responsible?
    I’d say primarily the building managers. They should be aware of & be responsible for compliance with fire regs. That implies actually doing fucking inspections & ensuring compliance. Which they’re too lazy & incompetent to do. Ditto the regulatory authority. When that’s the local authority, the above’s a given. With K&C it may get hazy. It’s the fire brigade itself. (although I believe all fire brigades have the power to inspect all structures they’re responsible for, in event of fire) You would expect the fire brigade to be doing inspections because they end up risking their lives in event of a Grenfell. But I can imagine the problems they’d have trying to actually insist on doing so amongst London high-rise cannabis plantations & crack houses full of third world illegal immigrants. Someone would actually have to give them access & one can imagine the response from the usual suspects. Meaning the building managers & local authority for a start.

  15. Think of you, in that hot seat, with streams of information, some of which may be true, some hopelessly exaggerated, stress, panic, politicians, trying to keep everything under control…what would YOU do.
    The agreed procedure was containment: stay put. To issue a change to the agreed procedure was an huge personal risk. One dead in the evacuation, and it’s your decision Wot Did It. You ignored SOP.
    No one would make such a change in Standard Procedure at a whim.
    And indeed, people did die in the evacuation. Had the fire turned out not so big, she would have been crucified for panicking and causing the “unnecessary” evacuations deaths.

    This is about leadership and having to make tough decisions and you train and prepare for those situations.

    Yes, they had plans in place, plans that were set-up for an emergency situation but they should have known the military dictum about plans and battles, because that is where leaders have to make those tough life and death decisions, that’s why they get £2m pensions.

    I’ve just been listening to Black Hawk Down on the Covert podcast. The General in charge that day had to make some tough decisions and took them and then held his hand up to take responsibility. It wasn’t his fault those choppers got hit or that troops decided not to take key bits of kit, he couldn’t be expected to inspect every man before he left. It wouldn’t have occurred to him not to take full responsibility.

  16. I’m curious how many of the posters above have actually read the report (I’ve read most of it).
    It’s possible that there may be a cover up of the cause of the initial fire, but the account in the report is certainly plausible, and accompanied by thermal imaging pictures from the initial fire brigade response.

    One of the key things I think I’ve realised from the report is that the way the system works for overall command is potentially poor. If I’ve understood correctly, the officer in charge of the first truck on scene ends up in charge of the lot – In this case the poor guy was being expected to deal with something totally out of his experience, and he made several judgement calls which with 20/20 hindsight were probably the wrong ones. That’s not to critise the bloke in question (whose life this whole thing has almost certainly ruined – I’d be amazed if he doesn’t now suffer PTSD), more to say that expecting a random officer to cope with overall charge of a difficult and complex scenario like this seems optimistic at best.

    I’d expect a review of how fire command is structured in serious incidents to be a large part of the outcome from all this.

  17. Regarding traces of explosives being found in the room at Grenfell, and the room being mysteriously off-limits to fire crew. I wouldn’t doubt it, but why were the fireman and the policeman revealing this to Uni students? This rather semi-public way of going about it achieves nothing but fuelling gossip.

  18. “If I’ve understood correctly, the officer in charge of the first truck on scene ends up in charge of the lot”

    I don’t know what the situation is in the UK, let alone in the London fire service. But in the US, over the last few decades, a huge effort has been put into planning & organizing Incident Command structures. Every firefighter and emergency medical technician has to undergo hours of instruction on the topic — all aimed at being able to respond efficiently and effectively during evolving emergency situations, particularly when a number of different organizations are responding and it is important to have everyone singing off the same hymn sheet.

    Officer in charge of the first truck to arrive would normally be the initial Incident Commander — but IC would be expected to change as the scope of the challenge became clear and additional resources are committed.

    If the UK has not already adopted appropriate Incident Command procedures, the good news is that there will be no need to re-invent the wheel.

  19. >I wouldn’t doubt it, but why were the fireman and the policeman revealing this to Uni students? This rather semi-public way of going about it achieves nothing but fuelling gossip.

    Are you saying they should keep it a secret?

    If it really was a fault in a fridge/freezer, then where have we got to as a society where we can’t even deal with a fire started by a fridge fault? British society is going backwards. It’s like watching some new version of JG Ballard’s High Rise set in woke multi-culti modern Britain.

  20. There’s some interesting stuff in one of the engineering journals that suggests that the fire service view would have been fine, but for the cladding. Fire on the ground floor, takes some time to spread upwards. So, don’t get people to escape (and risk meeting the fire). Tell them to stay put. Of course, what the cladding did was carry the fire upwards, bypassing the normal fire protection on corridors.

    Did anyone from the fire service know that the cladding was flammable? Because if not, that changes the decision.

  21. £2m pension pot sounds a lot, but if it’s a final salary, RPI annual increase, 50% spousal benefit then it’s probably generating about £35-£40k pension income a year. The £2m probably reflects the funds needed to purchase an annuity In the market, but if the fire service are basically paying her the pension out of scheme funds I doubt she’ll receive anything like £2m. I can’t believe she can actually take a pension at 50 unless she is medically discharged?

  22. Aha

    It turns out that the LFB wasn’t able to push enough senior peeps into action.

    LFB policy required the attendance of a monitoring officer. SM Andrew Walton assumed that role at 01.02.43 when he was paged by the control room, but could do little until he got to the incident ground at 01.40.12, and even then did not assume command in accordance with PN412. I appreciate that on arrival he may have wished to acquaint himself with the incident and the extent of the fire, but he could and should have taken steps to assume command more swiftly following his arrival. At 10 pumps a DAC was supposed to assume command monitored by an officer of AC rank, and at 16 pumps an AC was supposed to take incident command. The fact that a Watch Manager was left in command, without any effective
    remote monitoring assistance, for the first hour of the incident and for a full 20 minutes or so after the make-up had reached 25 pumps displays a shortcoming in the LFB’s mobilisation arrangements.

    p 606.
    https://assets.grenfelltowerinquiry.org.uk/GTI%20-%20Phase%201%20full%20report%20-%20volume%204.pdf

    Eventually a series of more senior bods turns up and an Assistant Chief (the fourth or fifth boss in charge) eventually gives the evacuation order.

  23. Dany Cotton in the public equiry insisted she ‘would not change anything we did on the night’. As far as I am concerned she can die in a fire.

  24. The “Stay Put” advice implies that rescue is on its way. It wasn’t.
    You don’t need to be a logician to see the contradiction here.

    Stay Put should at least be subject to periodic review. It wasn’t. It would have been more honest to put up posters saying “In case of fire do nothing”. That at least would have sharpened some residents’ minds.

  25. No comments about the stone throwing crowd. Distracting to dodge incoming stones whilst making command decisions….

  26. @Hector

    Great find, thanks for sharing. Would like to know what he makes of the report once it is complete.

  27. Gave a much better understanding about high rise alarm systems in particular. I do wonder whether instead of something as blunt as an alarm that can either sound or not, whether every stairwell/flat should be connected to an emergency loudspeaker system that emergency services can use to broadcast more complex messages to particular floors/areas (eg “phone this number so am operator can tell how many are in each flat”, “we are going to start an operation on floor 23 now” or whatever). It does seem that communicating with residents was a big difficulty in the rescue operation and something that was poorly coordinated.

    I’m afraid the loudspeaker idea is only another crappy armchair suggestion but it sounds cheaper than installing sprinklers would be…

  28. A touch off topic: “Miss Cotton” is the title of a beauty pageant winner in a few localities in the southern states. I wouldn’t parallel this with that.

    You had me laughing at the whole using a gender neutral firefighter term instead of “fireman”. Like that would stop fires or carry a fellow firefighter out of a flaming building.

    Political correctness doesnt equal competency.

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