Firefighters' battle continues five years after the Grenfell Tower disaster

Tara Grater 2021

Tara Grater
Consultant, Assurity Consulting
17th January 2023

This further highlights the fact that the devastating effects of fire do not end when the final flames are extinguished.

After experiencing high levels of exposure to contaminants during the rescue effort, firefighters have been diagnosed with digestive cancers and leukaemia. As some cancers can take up to 25 years to appear, experts are concerned that the number of firefighters affected is likely to rise. This has led to both firefighters and survivors being called in for health screenings.

The delayed onset of health conditions following disasters is, of course, not a new phenomenon. In September 2022, the Fire Department New York (FDNY) confirmed that the total number of firefighters that have died due to 9/11 related illnesses was 299. 21 years on from the deadly terrorist attacks, that claimed the lives of 2,996 people, the death count continues to rise.

Around 1,300 firefighters were involved in the rescue efforts at Grenfell Tower. Research suggests that firefighters are twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer if they remain in their PPE for more than four hours. It was reported that many of the firefighters who attended Grenfell sat in their contaminated PPE for over 10 hours and were also seen eating and drinking in their soot-covered PPE, which health experts believe could be the cause of digestive cancer.

The Grenfell tragedy and the subsequent inquiry have seen the introduction of The Fire Safety Act 2021 and The Building Safety Act 2022, which lays out new requirements for the fire safety of high-rise buildings and buildings with residential dwellings. The Fire Brigades Union is commissioning ‘further research’ to help demand ‘proper protection and support’ for firefighters who put their lives at risk to help members of the public.

Five years on since the tragedy, the death toll stands at 72 people. The fallout from this disaster will continue for years to come and this count is, unfortunately, likely to rise.