London firefighters praised for heroism in high-rise fire
Smoke and flames rise from a building on fire in London, Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Metropolitan Police in London say they’re continuing to evacuate people from a massive apartment fire in west London. The fire has been burning for more than three hours and stretches from the second to the 27th floor of the building.(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
ANDY LINES, Daily Mirror
AS terrified residents fled from the flames, hundreds of fearless firefighters strode towards the danger they had just escaped.
Watching a group of them march past the police cordon, I heard one say: “We’re going in and we’re going up.”
One shaken resident, who escaped the inferno in the early hours, paid tribute to the selfless bravery of the emergency crews, saying: “As I was running down the stairs, I went past a fireman who was running up.”
As fire chiefs, survivors and the public praised the heroism of London’s emergency crews, it brought back horrible memories of 9/11, when I witnessed first-hand the fearlessness of another city’s firefighters.
Iconic images from the attack on New York’s Twin Towers in 2001 showed members of their City Fire Department heading straight for danger – where 343 of them died. At the time, I lived just outside New York, and was in Manhattan that day.
Famously, the Mirror tracked down firefighter Mike Kehoe, who was pictured on our front page as he courageously headed up the stairwell of the World Trade Center.
Incredibly, he survived and four days later we told the world that he was alive, in a moving and memorable Mirror front page.
Last night, one firefighter compared the blazing tower block in London to the Twin Towers tragedy. An officer called Terry said: “There was one small staircase that everyone was going up. It was just like the images of 9/11.”
Terry had “seen nothing like it” during his 27 years with the fire service. He said of the rescue effort: “We had to literally run under police riot shields because of the amount of flaming debris, just to get into the building.
“We were going up the staircase and people were coming down in smoke. I don’t know how they were breathing.”
Terry said he managed to get up as far as the 10th floor, adding: “It’s like a war zone here.”
Steve Apter, Director of Safety and Assurance at London Fire Brigade, said emergency crews had “to get through particularly arduous conditions up to the top floor”.
Some 250 firefighters responded, in 40 vehicles. Engines arrived from across the capital, including teams from 11 hero on stairs Hornsey, Hendon, Walthamstow and Stratford. Search dogs were brought in from Kent Fire And Rescue Service.
Fire Engineering Humpday Hangout: London High-Rise Fire Discussion
Crews tried to rescue as many people as they could before the building became too dangerous.
Many firefighters were covered in ash and debris falling from the upper floors. At one stage, police officers were covering fire teams with riot shields as they tried to tame the blaze.
Other workers sat exhausted on the pavement on Ladbroke Grove as they drank water and ate sandwiches donated by local shopkeepers.
Fortunately, despite emergency teams’ fears yesterday, Grenfell Tower did not collapse. And residents expressed their gratitude to the crews.
Eddie Daffarn, 55, who has lived on the 16th floor of the block for more than 20 years, fled his flat after being alerted by a neighbour.
He became disorientated in the smoke and was brought to safety by a firefighter. He said: “My neighbour’s fire alarm went off and I heard people shouting, ‘Fire, fire,’ on the landing.
“I opened my front door and lots of smoke came in, so I shut it. About two seconds later, a neighbour from downstairs phoned me and said, ‘You’ve got to get out of the building.’ “So I went into the bathroom and wrapped a wet towel around my face and ran out of the front door. I think my neighbour saved my life.”
He recalled: “I ran out to find where the exit was and eventually a fireman touched my leg and he was able to help me into the fire escape.
“If I had been in that stairwell for any longer I don’t think I would have found the exit. You couldn’t see a thing. I was choking badly. It was a moment of life and death for me.
“I didn’t have that much time to think. It was only when I got into the doorway I realised how serious it was.
“I’m very grateful that the London Fire Brigade were there to help me.” Off-duty nurse Simone Williams said fire crews had done an incredible job.
She said: “It was very obvious that people were not going to get out.
“There were two hundred-plus firefighters and even they were coming out with injuries and they have special equipment. They were coming out shouting that it was too hot. They couldn’t get past the 10th floor, it was just too hot.” London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: “In my 29 years of being a firefighter I have never, ever seen anything of this scale.
“This is a major fire that has affected all floors of this 24-storey building, from the second floor upwards.”
Ian Leahair, executive council member of the Fire Brigades Union said: “I’ve not seen bravery like this is all my 27 years. The amount of firefighters that have gone into this building, the exhaustion levels they battled through, it is nothing short of heroic.
“The same applies to our control room staff, who – on top of fielding calls from members of the public and getting those they can to a safe place – have had to have horrific conversations with people trapped in the building, fearing for their lives. That is not an easy job.
He added: “The firefighters’ expectations on arrival was not for something on this scale. I know they are devastated because they have done all they can but they couldn’t do more.”
Copyright © 2017 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.