Like many of my fellow countrymen, I awoke this morning to the tragic and terrible news of the fire that engulfed and seemingly destroyed the Grenfell Tower residential block in West London. It is too early to speculate, but news sources suggest there have been multiple fatalities.
It is trite but, having grown up in a tower block myself, I can only imagine the horror of being trapped in a high rise block while it is ablaze. My thoughts go out to all those affected.
My thoughts go out also to any demolition workers that might ultimately find themselves working to make this block safe or – more likely – to demolish it entirely. Initial news reports suggest that there are fears the block might collapse. If that is the case, then demolition crews are likely to be required to attend.
The emergency services are trained to handle disasters and loss of life on this scale. Whilst I have nothing but admiration for those working in the fire and ambulance service, I would imagine that they develop a degree of immunity to such tragedies; that over the course of months and years and multiple accidents and incidents, they learn to cope with the horrors such events present.
Demolition workers have no such protection. Most will – thankfully – work their entire careers without ever encountering a scene like that of Grenfell Tower. Most will never have to work where men, women and children have perished. Most will never have to carry out work that constitutes a form of desecration, constantly in fear and dread of uncovering the undiscovered body of an unfortunate victim.
But some will. And those that do will do so without the cloak of immunity built up by the emergency services. They will do so without specific training on the tragedy of what they might encounter. And they will do so – often – with no form of counselling and support in the aftermath of what must surely be the worst aspect of the demolition trade.
In the event of a disaster such as that at Grenfell Tower, no-one is better equipped to deal with the aftermath than the demolition industry. The industry has the expertise to deal with unstable buildings and structures. It has the equipment required to do so delicately and safely. And it has men and women brave enough to work where others fear to tread.
But it is important that we are mindful of the potential impact that working in such an environment might have on those demolition workers. They are prepared to work anywhere and at any time. But nothing can prepare them for a tragedy such as this.