Wednesday 19 September 2018

Grenfell Tower: Photos where fire personnel scrawled details of rescue mission on walls shown to inquiry

The 24-floor Grenfell Tower blaze in London last summer cost 71 people their lives and is being probed by a public inquiry. Photo: PA
The 24-floor Grenfell Tower blaze in London last summer cost 71 people their lives and is being probed by a public inquiry. Photo: PA

Press Association

The Grenfell Tower inquiry was shown photographs of the walls inside the high-rise where fire personnel had scrawled details including flat numbers and where people were trapped.

The handwritten notes and grids were part of a desperate bid to co-ordinate rescues and get an overview of the dozens of calls seeking fire survival guidance from residents trapped inside the burning building.

The 24-floor Grenfell Tower blaze in London last summer cost 71 people their lives and is being probed by a public inquiry. Photo: PA
The 24-floor Grenfell Tower blaze in London last summer cost 71 people their lives and is being probed by a public inquiry. Photo: PA

Brien O'Keeffe ran the operational bridgehead - or safe-air space - on June 14 last year, marshalling firefighters and processing information from 999 calls from those inside.

Mr O'Keeffe said he recalled drawing a simplified diagram of the tower but could not be sure that he had produced the one shown in the photograph displayed.

Mr O'Keeffe said he had used a cross to show a flat that had been searched or where a deceased resident had been found, and diagonal lines to indicate how many people were in a location awaiting rescue.

In one photograph, what appears to be the phrase "dead body" could be seen scrawled onto a bright green wall on the ground floor.

When the bridgehead was moved down to the base of the tower, fire personnel took photographs of the walls so they could transfer the valuable information, the inquiry heard.

Mr O'Keeffe told the inquiry: "The amount of writing that was going up on the wall was quite considerable. I felt it was too much trying to brief crews who were quite stressed before they went up there so what I drew was a picture of a tower, like a pictogram, as simply as I could."

Firefighter Christopher Dorgu gives evidence (Grenfell Tower Inquiry)
Firefighter Christopher Dorgu gives evidence (Grenfell Tower Inquiry)

Mr O'Keeffe recalled being "amazed" at the scale of the fire when he was showed mobile phone footage of the building while on the bridgehead.

He said: "It shocked us. At this point we were focused on our jobs of command and control and search and rescue and to see the whole building alight just stunned us."

Asked if he had ever encountered something similar before, he replied: "No, never. I have never been in a building that was entirely alight before."

Asked if he felt the incident commanders outside the tower had not been keeping him informed about the fire's progress, he said: "I would not say that, it was just that we did not have a visual."

Undated handout photos of 27 of the confirmed victims who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. (top row left to right) Mohammad Alhajali, Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, also known as Khadija Saye, Anthony Disson, Khadija Khalloufi, Mary Mendy, (second row left to right) Isaac Paulos, Sheila, Gloria Trevisan, Marco Gottardi, Berkti Haftom, (third row left to right) Ali Jafari, Majorie Vital, Yahya Hashim, Hamid Kani, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, (fouth row left to right) Zainab Deen, Nura Jemal, Jeremiah Deen, Yasin El Wahab, Firdaws Hashim, (fifth row left to right) Hasim Kedir, Deborah Lamprell, Ernie Vital, Sakina Afrasehabi, Denis Murphy, (sixth row left to right) Raymond Bernard and Biruk Haftom. Photo: PA/PA Wire
Undated handout photos of 27 of the confirmed victims who died in the Grenfell Tower fire. (top row left to right) Mohammad Alhajali, Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, also known as Khadija Saye, Anthony Disson, Khadija Khalloufi, Mary Mendy, (second row left to right) Isaac Paulos, Sheila, Gloria Trevisan, Marco Gottardi, Berkti Haftom, (third row left to right) Ali Jafari, Majorie Vital, Yahya Hashim, Hamid Kani, Jessica Urbano Ramirez, (fouth row left to right) Zainab Deen, Nura Jemal, Jeremiah Deen, Yasin El Wahab, Firdaws Hashim, (fifth row left to right) Hasim Kedir, Deborah Lamprell, Ernie Vital, Sakina Afrasehabi, Denis Murphy, (sixth row left to right) Raymond Bernard and Biruk Haftom. Photo: PA/PA Wire

A veteran firefighter with 22 years of service has told of the moment he thought he would die as he attempted to rescue a 12-year-old girl from the higher floors of Grenfell Tower.

Christopher Dorgu, who said he had been with Kensington Red Watch for 19 years, accompanied firefighters Christopher Secrett and David Badillo on a rescue effort to flat 176 - the family home of a schoolgirl reported trapped, Jessica Urbano Ramirez.

They arrived to find the 20th-floor flat smoke-logged and the girl nowhere to be seen.

Low on oxygen, they attempted to make their way down the pitch-black stairs, but Mr Dorgu became separated, screaming his crew mate's name before finally stumbling upon him in the stairwell.

In a written statement to the public inquiry into the fire, he said: "Chris had no air, I thought f*** I'm gonna die. Chris said 'I gotta go I got no air'. I set off down the stairs but the smoke was so thick."

He continued: "Where there was no glass from the lobby I couldn't see my hand in front of my face or even see my torch.

"As we went down it was getting hotter and hotter as, although we didn't know it at the time, we were getting closer and closer to the fire.

"We were looking for people to escort out but we didn't see anybody."

Mr Dorgu described hearing his colleague's whistle sounding - warning that he had low oxygen levels left.

He said he was surprised to see smoke "so thick, dark and high", as it became apparent they were on the 20th floor, hot and exhausted, with dwindling oxygen supplies and in total darkness.

He went on: "My whistle was going now as well and I couldn't find Dave (Badillo). I was running up and down looking for him as I couldn't leave him. I was trying to get the bridgehead on the radio. I was screaming his name and finally found him looking for me.

"Somehow Dave went past me even though the stairwell was so narrow that you could only just get someone past you with all the equipment on. Then suddenly he was there beside me."

Mr Dorgu was able to escape the tower and began assisting with the evacuation of casualties.

Later, he recalled "shoving" sheets of paper with information from fire survival guidance calls through the door of the command unit near the tower, but that those handling these were "overwhelmed" at the volume coming in.

He said: "Loads of FSG calls were coming in with a guy from Euston doing it.

"People on the phone who were still in there. I realised that dozens would die.

"Some people were giving advice on the phone, but I don't know what advice or when the advice changed, if it did.

"We have stay-put advice thinking it is the right advice. To tell people to come out would be disastrous. "

Earlier, Mr Millett asked Mr O'Keeffe whether EDBA (extended-duration breathing apparatus) wearers he had deployed to the highest floors where groups of residents had congregated had come down without having made a successful rescue.

"Yes," he replied.

"Did they debrief to you?", Mr Millett asked.

Mr O'Keeffe said: "They did. Some of them were collapsing at the time. They were in a bad state."

"And are you able to tell us how high they went up into the building before turning around?", the QC asked.

"Not specifically but I know some crews went very high, went up as far as they could possibly go without killing themselves," Mr O'Keeffe said.

Mr Dorgu told of how he advised a distressed resident that her bed-bound father, trapped on the 15th floor, was in the safest place he could be.

The firefighter told the inquiry it was "unthinkable" that the fire would spread up the building at such speed - "faster than I could run".

He believed the man would be safer staying where he was, 10 floors above the floor he thought the fire had reached.

However, he did not know that fire had spread to the seventh floor and only became aware flames were licking up the outside of the building when he exited the tower, turned around, and looked up.

He said: "I actually said to her he would be fine, it's the 15th floor, it's the safest place to be, he will be 10 floors away from the fire."

Mr Dorgu said he did not know whether others had attempted to rescue the stranded man.

As he attempted to reach the 20th floor, Mr Dorgu said he had experienced problems communicating on his radio from the eighth floor up.

He repeatedly attempted to transmit to the bridgehead but received no response.

"I couldn't hear anyone and I'm pretty sure no-one could hear me," he told the inquiry.

Mr Dorgu was asked why he had not knocked on the doors of any of the 20th floor flats neighbouring Jessica's to alert anyone inside, when, earlier, he had seen the east face of the building "substantially alight".

He told Mr Millett: "Because, I think disbelief if I'm honest. I just did not believe that a substance would be put on the side of a building, all the way up, with no fire breaks, that was completely flammable, that would race up higher than I could run, that would break into every flat on the way, set that flat on fire and carry on doing that all the way."

He said the cladding and building were "almost two separate entities" and the cladding was "burning and falling away like paper".

He also said there was no way he would ask someone to come out of their flats into such a smoke-logged environment.

He added that he felt evacuation would have been "virtually impossible" very early on in the fire due to the smoke-logged stairwell and lobbies.

Press Association

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News