Meaning: The Bronx fire brings back memories of ‘screaming faces by the windows’ in Grenfell

On June 14, 2017, I saw like flames engulfed Grenfell Tower – a 24-storey high-rise block of flats in west London – in the neighborhood I’ve lived in for more than three decades. I can still remember the smell of burning, screaming spectators, faces against the windows and people shouting for help. The fire cost 72 lives. In moments like this, you are left numb, completely powerless. You question whether this nightmare is really happening.

When there were reports of the Bronx fire, I knew that families and friends of the residents of that apartment block and the local community would be living the same trauma. They would hold on to the hope that their loved ones would survive. And in their shock, they would question how the fire happened.

We do not yet know the full circumstances of the Bronx fire, but there are already striking similarities with those at Grenfell. Very much like in London, The New York fire started in an apartment that was not a working fire door and smoke then spread through staircase to each floor.
When the fire happened at Grenfell Tower, it focused on whether the construction, renovation and management of the block, as well as existing building regulations, were adequate, and especially how exterior cladding – placed on the building solely for aesthetic purposes. – contributed significantly to the the speed and spread of the fire. These questions triggered a major struggle for housing, which i.a.are still being fought today.
Other similarities between the London and Bronx fires show that race and social class must be part of the conversation about these disasters. The New York block contained affordable housing and is located in an area of ​​the Bronx home to a large Muslim and migrant Community. In fact, many of those in the building were immigrants from the West African nation Gambia.
Corresponding 85% of the residents who died in Grenfell Tower, a social housing development, were from ethnic minorities. And almost half of the victims were disabled adults or children. No personal emergency evacuation plans was in place for these vulnerable residents. We face social inequality every day of our lives, yet the public Grenfell survey has chosen to do so rule out the problems of class and race from its terms of reference.
But the study revealed one lousy construction industry culture in the UK, where thousands of households across the country live in fear in their homes. Tenants without prior knowledge that their homes are covered in combustible materials faced large costs to get it removed. On Monday, Housing Minister Michael Gove was under increasing pressure to act on the clothing crisis, announced new legislation to protect tenants from the cost of all security defects after Grenfell.
Space warmer triggered fire in Bronx, killing 17 people, including 8 children
In the UK, outsourcing of public services over the years reduced accountability and control, and poor building regulations exacerbate the problem. The use of combustible materials was hidden from public view and an unnecessary cost-saving exercise by the local authority – one of the richest in Britain. One of the Tenant Management Organization’s main contractors saved £ 126,000 (US $ 171,000) by switching to a cheaper and more dangerous type of clothing for the renovation. And previous tenants said they were bullied by trustees to accept renovations that they feared were a security risk.
In the case of the Bronx fire, investigators are investigating the possibility that it was started by a defective electric heater. The building’s fire alarms and a number of open doors are also on investigators’ radar and officials are investigating one of the worst fires in the city’s history. The bereaved families from the Bronx fire will now ask similar questions to Grenfell four years ago. Each member of this community will be affected by the loss in their own way; the charred building will be a daily reminder; a once occupied space in the classroom, a colleague that you no longer see, the person who no longer serves you in the store, drives your bus. It leaves a gaping hole in the lives of so many survivors.

Our fight for justice is based on the principle that everyone should have a safe and decent home to live in. This should be a right, not a privilege. Your home is supposed to be a haven. The safest place for you and your family. But all too often, the most vulnerable people are given the keys to their homes – usually built and maintained to a minimum of standards – and left to do so.

There are so many other things the authorities need to do to keep people informed on how they can stay safe in their homes and this should be a wake-up call for all managed buildings. There should be at least a mandatory component in any rental agreement to know what to do if a fire breaks out in their home and appropriate fire doors are fitted and this should be supported by regular public information announcements.

Today, my heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to family and friends 17 men, women and children who died in the New York fire. We need to change our thinking and see these buildings not only as real estate but as people’s homes. A just standard of security in our homes, whether for the poor or the wealthy, should exist – because all our lives are equally valuable.


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