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Grenfell Tower: Firefighters who battled blaze were 'prepared to die' to save others

'Every single person within that building was willing to lose their own life. Every single person,' senior fire officer says

Lucy Pasha-Robinson
Wednesday 26 July 2017 23:41 BST
Firefighters observe a minute’s silence near the tower
Firefighters observe a minute’s silence near the tower (PA)

Firefighters who battled the Grenfell Tower blaze have spoken of how they were prepared to lay down their own lives to save as many residents from the burning building as they could.

Commanders from the London Fire Brigade recalled the hellish scenes that faced them last month when the 24-storey west London block was engulfed in an inferno of unprecedented scale.

Senior officers Pat Goulbourne and Richard Welch were at the scene and described how every member of their team was prepared to die that night.

“Every single person within that building was willing to lose their own life to try to save others. Every single person,” Mr Welch told ITV documentary Inside London Fire Brigade.

He said he was first alerted to the disaster early in the morning and knew quickly that the incident was serious.

“My pager went off at 1.18am to inform me of a flat fire at Grenfell Tower,” he said.

“Initially they had six machines there. Then they asked for eight, and then 10, and then 15, 20 and then 25. I’m hearing that on the way there, so it’s becoming really clear that we’ve got quite a serious incident going on.

“One of the first things I did was actually declare it a major incident because I knew we were going to need a lot of help.”

Mr Goulbourne said he knew on the approach that it would be “the job of our lives” as he saw flames reaching from the lower floors to the very top of the block.

“As I was approaching it, I just knew we had probably the job of our lives on the go because already I could see fire from the lower floors and I couldn’t believe I was looking at fire to the top floor,” he said.

“I’ve never seen anything like that, ever. The fire was changing, it was moving rapidly.

“You could hear people screaming for help. There were people making signals for help.

“It was dreadful. There are hundreds of people in there. Men, women, children were coming out fully sooted. Black. They had been through a layer of smoke in complete distress.”

Hundreds of residents were inside the tower when it erupted into flames on 14 June. Many followed the “stay put” guidance issued by the fire service.

Others fled as choking fumes began to envelope the corridors.

Mr Goulbourne said: “We had our hoses going up the staircase. We had people trying to get out coming down the staircase.

“We’ve got firefighters going up the staircase and the staircase was filling with smoke. So the priority was really to try to reach the flats we knew had people in. The issue we had was the intensity of the fire.

“There was the potential for the building to collapse.”

At least 80 people died in the blaze of unprecedented scale, with identification efforts still ongoing.

Commander for the London Borough Steve Dudeney said: “There were firefighters laying about with haunted looks in their eyes.

“After 30 years in the London Fire Brigade I didn’t ever expect to see anything like that. And I pray to God I never will again.”

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton warned many emergency workers were likely to face psychological trauma following the tragedy.

She said the tough conditions and shocking scenes they faced, including a child being thrown from an upper storey window, had left many traumatised.

She also told how many were forced to make decisions about who to save, as it became clear not everyone would make it out of the building alive.

Inside London Fire Brigade will be broadcast on Thursday at 9pm on ITV.

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