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Anorak | ‘Tell her we’re coming’: A firefighter who attended Grenfell Tower writes an open letter about that night

‘Tell her we’re coming’: A firefighter who attended Grenfell Tower writes an open letter about that night

by | 20th, June 2017

Grenfell tower

 

A firefighter who attended Grenfell Tower has written on the Facebook ‘Save the Fire Service’. It begins: “Sent to us at STUKFS, powerful and emotional story from a firefighter who attended Grenfell Tower.” STUKFS is: Save the UK Fire Service.

I’M not sure if this is something that I should vocalise or whether or not it should be shared with the world but as I sit at home thinking about the other night the Grenfell Tower I feel like people might want to know how the incident went from the point of view of a firefighter who was sent inside, while the tower burned all around us and how after years of cuts to the service I work for, how I feel about what we do and how the past few years have been for us.

I’ve always been very proud of the job my colleagues and I do week in week out as part of the fire service. At times its hard, at others not so much but the uncertainty of what might happen is always there.

We are a funny bunch, we like to laugh to play jokes on each other, sometimes we are silent and won’t tell you what we are thinking about.

We laugh off the good natured banter directed at us from outside the service and mostly manage to do the same with the insults we get as a public service, even when it’s not always easy to do so.

It is especially hard to think about those insults during times like this. When I think about all the occasions I’ve heard and seen on the news or social media where people are calling us lazy or greedy because we dared to show anger at the 1% pay rise we’ve had imposed year after year. While MPs sit in Westminster drinking and eating in a subsidised bars and restaurants while they make £100+ a hour all on the tax payers money, getting a 11% pay rise and increased pensions to go with it.

When people think we have some sort of golden plated, over generous pensions. Ignorant to the fact that we pay in over 12% of our wages into it every month. That’s £300/£400 a month, every month! That we are worse off now than we were 7 years ago.

And we weren’t well off then by any means.

Ah Yes some of you say.. but you’ve all got second jobs.

Well. Yes! Some people do work second jobs on their rest days, but this isn’t good is it!

It can’t be…

Who wants to work a second job on days you should be resting and recovering or spending with loved ones.

They only do it so they can provide for their family’s.

And you know what! We will have to continue to do this extremely dangerous job until we are 60 years old! That is of course as long as they don’t sack us because the physical strains of the work took their tolls on our body’s and we can’t physically go on meeting the fitness standards any longer. Or maybe they will decide to move our pension age again, robbing hard working men an women of tens of thousands of pounds they had planned for their retirement.

Can you imagine seeing all those images from that awful night but pictured in them instead of containing lots of young fit firefighters able to recover quickly, ready to go again and again to save you, it’s full of 50-60 year old grey haired firefighters pushing their worn and broken body’s that have suffered through 40 years of service through the strains of the job to breaking point.

If you can you can imagine it that night might of been very very different.

I can’t help but think “if only those people really knew!” if only those people who make those decisions, those people who think we are money wasted because there are the days we have no shouts to attend. The days we might just be at the station or when we are going out to put up smoke alarms for people or familiarise ourselves with the local risks or talk to kids at local schools.

If only those people could experienced the things we’ve seen and done on the days that aren’t that easy. So they can see first hand what we do to deal with these horrific incidents.
Not just turn up after it’s all done to have their photos taken with us giving out hollow praise so they look good in the news as they continue to cut our funding and working conditions.

So with all that in my mind and hopefully now in yours I though I’d write my personal experience of what I faced at Grenfell Tower.

Somethings I will miss out as they don’t need to be said, some I can’t say, other things I will simplify so hopefully everyone can understand them, I’m not looking for praise I just want to let you know we did all we could.
————

As always we were woken with a start, the lights came on and the automated tannoy voice started shouting our call signs. It never fails to set your heat racing. Getting dressed I looked at the clock, I’d only lay down less than a hour ago. Time to see what we’ve got this time..
Down the pole to the trucks and it’s here I’m handed the call slip make pumps plenty.. what! No..
That’s a big incident.
Wait…. I don’t know where this is.. it’s not on our ground.
We have to look it up and then we’re out the doors.

We arrived about 0120hrs but due to the way cars are parked in the streets and the fire engines that are arriving with us we couldn’t get closer than 4-5 streets away from the building. Other trucks were closer they would be setting up water ready for us.

We could see this was a bad one immediately. The sky was glowing. Leaving our truck we started quickly towards it. Picking up pace we are carrying our BA sets on our back, while making our way we are trying to read the conditions in front of us, trying to take in as much information as we could. How big is the tower, where is the fire, where is the fire going next, how’s it behaving, how many flats are internally affected, how many people are in there?

We mustered outside the entrance. Parts of the building we already starting to fall down on to the surrounding area.
As we entered the building the fire on the outside was raging from the top to the bottom.
Walking up to the bridgehead on the 3rd floor we were told to look at a floor plan that had been hastily drawn on a wall.
We stood looking at it waiting at entry control to be given instructions my BA partner and I stood waiting with other firefighters waiting to see what information there was available. Then we received our brief… 23rd floor people stuck in their flat go!
23rd floor? I repeat back.. giving the flat number I received to the Watch manager.
She confirms. I turned at told my BA as the reality of how high we are going to try and go on a single cylinder of air.

Weighed down carrying 30kg+ of equipment not including our firekit and breathing apparatus (BA) we passed through entry control handing in our tallies and confirming our brief.
We made our way up a crowed stairwell struggling to make progress, at times unable to pass because of the amount of people on the stairs. The stairwells were full of other BA crews bringing people down all in various states and conditions.

The smoke grew thicker with each floor we went up. No proper floor numbers on the stairwells after about the 5th floor made it hard to know where you were. Someone before us had tried to write them on the wall with chinagraph pencil but this didn’t last long. The dirty smoke was covering the walls with a film of blackness

Around the 9th 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 19/20th 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’s no way we could make it to the 23rd and back to the bridgehead.

The couple were shouting and screaming at us through the coughing, trying to tell us there were 5 more people on the floor above!

Now I had horrible decisions to make and a very short amount of time to make them.

In what I think would of been less than a minute these are all the things I had going through my head.
I will list a few of them for you.
All of which I needed to consider before making my decision:……..

•Now that we’ve stopped and lost our rhythm on the stairs would we have enough air to leave this couple and try to reach the next floor?

•Was the information we are getting from these people was correct. After all they are frantically panicking as they choke and suffer from the heat.

•If we let them carry on down the stairs alone would they or could they find their own way out?

•If we went up another floor would we actually find the 5?

•If we found them what state would they be in? Could the two of us get that many out especially one or more are unconscious?

•How would we decided who to take?

•Do we have enough air to make it back down to safety ourselves from where we are?

•Should I be considering asking my BA partner a “new mother” to risk even more than she already has…?

•Can I accept/live with the thought that saving two lives is better than taking the risk to go up and potentially saving no one?

Ahh!! Come on think…!
Am I doing enough?
Can I give more?
Am I forgetting any of my training….?

Stop….

Breath…..

Think…..

•Why haven’t we seen another crew for so long?

•Will another crew find them?

•Are we really where we think we are?

•The radios are playing up… have we missed a important message.

•Have all crews been pulled out?

•Is the structure still safe?

Come on make a decision… and make it quick these people are choking…….

Ok Ok Ok!
Dam!
Come on!! Think!!
Right… ok
Decision made!

I do a double check… ask my partner…
Is it the right decision..?
Ahhh
I’m doubting myself,
Ahhh! there’s no time for this!
Come on get on with it…

Right! Make the call!

I try to radio down to entry control.

“Alpha Control Priority!”……
No response….

“Alpha Control Priority!”
Still No response….

Where are they… what’s going on?!?

“Alpha Control Priority!”
…………………
…………………

Did they answer… it’s hard to tell.. the signal is all broken I think I can just about hear something.

“Alpha Control Priority!”

Alpha control responds…
“Go a head with priority over”

Are they talking to me I can’t hear my call sign…

Pass the message

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. Further traffic….
5 casualties are reported apparently trying to make their way out on the floor above. Over

Alpha control “Message received”

Were they talking to me it broke up again…

Ok we really need to get out.
Let’s go!
Grab my arm.

Taking a casualty each we set off. Within two floors both of us had been pushed down one of the flight of the stairs by our casualties. They are screaming at us that they couldn’t breath.
We try to reassure them.
Stay with me!!
We are going to get you out!!.
Please stay with me!

Down and down we go… I hear a shout from behind me from my partner, the female casualty has become unconscious. My partner is now having to drag her down alone. I can’t help at this time.

Two floors later we find another crew making their way out. One of them is carrying a little girl. I hand off my casualty to the firefighter who has a free set of hands, please take him out I shout, we’ll be right behind you.
I turn to go but with that he hands me something I’d not seen initially.
Wait!
What!
Im handed a

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Posted: 20th, June 2017 | In: Key Posts, News Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink