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Firefighter forced to make impossible choice at Grenfell Tower

Liverpool Echo logo Liverpool Echo 20/06/2017 Rebecca Koncienzcy
© Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc

Warning: The post contains content some readers may find distressing.

A distraught firefighter was forced to make an impossible choice on the 20th floor of the Grenfell Tower as fire tore through the building.

The harrowing story details how smoke engulfed him and his partner as they went to rescue residents of the high-rise flats.

He went on to describe how he had to make an impossible choice of whether to help a couple struggling to breathe on the "19th or 20th floor" or continue passed them to the "five people" desperately wanting to be rescued on the floor above.

The hero shared his story on the Facebook page ' Save the UK Fire Service ', who published it anonymously, the Mirror reports.

A lengthy and emotional account detailing what went on inside Grenfell Tower - where at least 79 people lost their lives - the post has brought many people to tears.

It begins with a description of the approach to the building at about 1.20am - just 26 minutes after the blaze was first reported to emergency services - when the severity of the situation became apparent.

After running with heavy equipment from four or five streets away, the firefighter was told by the watch manager to head up to the 23rd floor of the 24-storey building, weighed down by more than 30kg of equipment and breathing apparatus.

When he had climbed high up into the building, he was forced to make the 'horrible' decision.

© Getty

Below is an extract from the harrowing post where he recounts his thought process. 

A firefighter's story from inside Grenfell Tower

Credits: PA © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA

"We made our way up a crowded 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.

Credits: PA © Provided by Trinity Mirror Plc Credits: PA

"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 five more people on the floor above.

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

© AP

"In what I think would of (sic) 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 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?

© Getty

- 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 decide who to take?

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

© Getty

- 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?"

He goes on to say that he told himself to think and asked "Am I doing enough? Can I give more? Am I forgetting any of my training?" before telling himself to "stop, breathe and think".

© AP

The firefighter then asked the following questions:

- 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 an important message?

- Have all crews been pulled out?

- Is the structure still safe?

© Getty

"Come on make a decision... and make it quick these people are choking.......Ok Ok Ok! Damn! 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!'

© PA

"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 ahead 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...

© Getty

"Five 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.

© Getty

"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! I'm handed a firefighters helmet!

© Getty

"This can't be good! Why does he have this? Where is the firefighter it belongs to!

"As I turn round and go back up one turn of the stairs I see him. He's missing his helmet but he's with my BA partner.

"He's got no helmet and no breathing apparatus. Are you ok? Where's your BA set!?

"He's given it to a casualty.. he's coughing as he tells us, he's delirious from the heat and smoke.

© PA

"Still he tries to help carry the casualty! Helping others is still his first thought.

"I shout at him.. 'Get down those stairs, get down to the bridgehead!' I take the casualties arms my BA partner has her legs.

"We start down again.. round and round we go, hear the noise of crews working hard around us. There are still crews going up the stairs past us.

"My BA pre alarm starts going this off.... this means one thing.. my air is running low.. similar noises are all around me.

© Getty

"Turning a corner we see a white helmet, it's a watch manager in the stairwell. We've reached the bridgehead."

The firefighter describes how he handed off his casualties to other emergency services to help them and headed outside, desperate for clean air to breathe and a drink of water.

"Now lots of things happened during the time I was outside. Some people were rescued alive, some unfortunately weren't. People jumped, a mother threw a baby from a floor high up, caught by a complete stranger arms just so she could get it away from the fire.

"All this time hour after hour my colleagues were pushing themselves above and beyond what you'd think was humanly possible.

© Getty

"Some time later, I couldn't say how long, we are all grouped together waiting for news. A senior officer is telling us he knows we've already broken all the policies we have.

"He knows the risks we've taken but thats not enough we are going to have to take more! There are still a lot more people who need us.

"He says he's going ask us to do things that would normally be unimaginable. To put our lives at risk even more than we already have.

"Everyone is looking round at each other listening to this officer try to motivate us into action again. He didn't need to though, we are ready for it! This is what we train for.

© PA

"Those colleagues who a little while ago were collapsed and broken from on the grass from their first entry are back up, ready, stood in full kit waiting for their orders to go in again."

Nineteen hours after their shift began, the firefighters from this crew left the tower.

The post ends: "I'm off to see my family and friends now. I might talk to them about it if I can, but then again I might not. I'm not sure they need to know what's in my head just yet. Maybe once I've made sense of it I will.

"Please take care out there people, but if you can't don't worry to much. We will be there looking out for you, all day everyday!"

If you would like to read the full post, you can find it on the Save the UK Fire Service Facebook page .

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