timberland stores london I was a firefighter at Grenfell Tower
As always we were woken with a start:the lights came on and the automated Tannoy voice started shouting our call signs. I headed down the pole to the trucks and was handed the call slip “Make pumps plenty”. What?That’s a big incident.
Approaching the tower we could see that this was a bad one. The sky was glowing and parts of the building were already starting to fall down. We received our brief: 23rd floor, people stuck in their flat. Go!
Weighed down carrying 30kg plus of equipment, not including our fire kit and breathing apparatus (BA), we made our way up a crowded stairwell,struggling to make progress.
Around the ninth floor we lost all visibility and the heat was rising. Still we continued up and up through the blackness. We reached what we believed to be the 19th or20th floor but there was no way to tell. It was here where we found a couple trying to find their way out, panicking, choking, blinded by the thick toxic air.
A quick gauge check showed us that the amount of floors we’d climbed had taken its toll; we were getting low on air. There was no way we could make it to the 23rdfloor and back to the bridgehead.
The couple were shouting and screaming tous between choking coughs, trying to tell us there were five more people on the floor above.
I had horrible decisions to make and a very short amount of time to make them.
We had stopped and lost our rhythm on the stairs; would we have enough air to leave this couple and to reach the next floor?
Then I started to panic. Why haven’t we seen another crew for so long? Will another crew find them? The radios are playing up.
I tried to radio down to entry control. “Alpha Control Priority!”
No response. I tried again. Still no response. Where are they? What’s going on?
“Go ahead with priority, over.”
“Alpha control, two casualties found approx 20th floor, crew now escorting them down, request another BA team be committed to reach flat on 23rd floor. Five casualties are reported apparently trying to make their way out on the floor above. My partner had to drag her down alone. I couldn’t help.
Two floors later, we found another crew making their way out. One of them was carrying a little girl. I handed off my casualty to the firefighter who hada free set of hands. “Please take him out,” I shout, “we’ll be right behind you.”I turned to go and help my partner, but then he handed me something I’d not seen initially: a firefighter’shelmet. Why does he have this? Where is the firefighter it belongs to?
ThenI saw him. He was missing his helmet but was with my BA partner wearing no helmet and no breathing apparatus. “Are you ok? Where’s your BA set?!”
He had given it to a casualty, he tells us, coughing,
delirious from the heat and smoke. Still, he tried to help carry the casualty. Helping others is still his first thought.
“Get down those stairs, get down to the bridgehead!” I shouted at him.
I took the casualty down to the ground floor, while my partner remained with the fireman we found, administering him oxygen at entry control on the fifth floor.
Ascending back to the bridgehead to find my partner, I shut my set down and I took my mask off, hoping for a deep breath of clean air. I sucked in alungfulof lightish smoke. I coughed and retched, but it was still clean enough to breathe. It was better than the air higher up. Thenwe were off again and we took the firefighter down and out with us.
As we got outside,we were desperate for a drink of water, collapsing on the grass by the leisure centre. Colleagues were all around us, tunics off, their T shirts soaked through with sweat,no one able to talk.
We were all looking up at the building we had just come out of. It was getting worse. The fire was everywhere.
It threw me and I struggled to reply. I looked across at a police officer and pointed, telling her he will take her to the people who will take her friend’s information and pass it on to the crews inside. Stay on the phone with her, I said. Tell her not to give up, we are still coming. We are still getting to people, I promised.
A while later, a senior officer was telling us he knewwe’dalready broken all the policies we have. He said he knew the risks we had taken but that’s not enough: we are going to have to take more. There are still a lot more people who need us.
He said he was going ask us to do things that would normally be unimaginable to put our lives at risk even more than we already have.
Everyone was looking round at each other, listening to this officer try to motivate us into action again. He didn’t need to,though:we were ready for it. This is what we train for.
Hour after hour, my colleagues were pushing themselves above and beyond what you’d think was humanly possible.
As the light broke, trucks with fresh crews arrived and those of us whowere there early on were swapped over. No one wanted to leave, everyone willing to give more,
but eventually we all had to leave the scene.