Grenfell victim 'skimmed firefighter after jumping', inquiry hears

28 June 2018, 15:13

A person who jumped from Grenfell Tower during the blaze "narrowly" missed a firefighter before hitting the ground, the inquiry has heard.

Daniel Brown, who was one of the first firefighters into flat 16 where the fire started on 14 June last year, described the scene in a written submission.

He said he saw a man's body with one leg missing covered by a "salvage sheet".

"It was mentioned that he brushed a firefighter's breathing apparatus set he/she was wearing upon landing, narrowly missing them full on," he said in its submission to the public inquiry on Thursday.

Mr Brown said he was surprised at the lack of heat as he and a colleague approached the room in the fourth floor flat.

His colleague, Charles Batterbee, put out a fire around the fridge - where the fire started - but Mr Brown said he was confused as there was a "forceful curtain flame" away from the fridge at the top of the wall by the ceiling above a window opening.

"I believe it is highly likely the external insulation/cladding was alight before we arrived," Mr Brown wrote.

Mr Batterbee then held onto Mr Brown as he aimed a fire hose through the window.

"I was leaning so far out and I guess he was worried I might fall out of the window," Mr Brown said.

But the water was having "no effect" and when he went outside he was told 20 fire engines had been ordered, to which he replied: "Really?"

Mr Brown said his jaw dropped as he saw the fire had spread to the top of the 24-storey tower via the flammable cladding, which killed 72 people.

Mr Batterbee told the inquiry the night was like a "war zone".

He said he believed the job was done when he put the flames out in the kitchen.

He entered the smoke filled room and doused the fridge blaze at 1.20am, radioing to tell his colleagues "we had done our job".

He told the inquiry on Thursday he would never "get over the shock" of the moment he came outside and saw the tower was still on fire.

Recounting the stages beforehand, he said: "At that point it was just a standard, bread-and-butter job, it was no different from any other compartment fire.

"It looked to me as though I'd put out a fridge and some kitchen furniture, what you would expect to see in a kitchen.

"Once we stood up, I gave the branch back to Danny and I remember getting on my radio, my (breathing apparatus) set, to update entry control that we had done our job, put the fire out.

"I remember the room wasn't 100% damaged, it was just that corner, there were burn patterns above on the ceiling, but we had put that compartment out.

"Then I noticed out of the window, up to the right-hand side, I noticed flames, something was alight."

Seeing an extractor fan on fire, he leant out of the window to extinguish it, holding on to his colleague "for dear life".

Mr Batterbee said the night's events were chaotic.

In a written statement filed to the inquiry, he said: "I remember the intensity of the flame. I can only describe it as huge balls of flame falling down along with debris; it didn't stop; it was violent...

"We kept hitting it with water but again it was having no bearing on the fire."

He added that when he was outside the tower, he quickly realised the pieces of debris were coming down so thick and fast they "could quite easily kill a person" and it was not safe to stay where they were.

The seven-year veteran of the London Fire Brigade was later struck by a large piece of burning debris during the fire and was saved only by a riot shield firefighters were given to protect themselves.

Although they targeted the fire with water outside, he said the flames started making a "fizzing sound".

He added: "It was as though someone had poured an accelerant down the side of building. Nothing I tried worked."

Firefighters had to smash through windows on the west face of the tower to get access, as the entrance was too dangerous.

Mr Batterbee added: "The whole thing was hell, it was like a war zone. The noise was so loud with the fire, the constantly falling debris and the pumps going.

"There were times during the night when I was far enough away carrying out a task, where I would be able to see the entirety of the Tower and every time it was a hundred times worse than the time before.

"It shouldn't have happened. It completely spread from being one face alight to eventually all faces alight. At one point, it looked like a massive line of fire had gone up and over the top of the building and down the West side. We had gone from a fire in a building to a building on fire."

He recalled firefighters needing medical attention themselves.

Mr Batterbee was asked to speak to a trapped resident on the phone, but could not hear where she was because of the noise.

He said: "At that point there are no words to describe how powerless I felt."

Reflecting on the night's tragedy, he said: "The main thing that could have been in place that night to assist (firefighters) would have been a building not clad in highly flammable material.

"I don't really think that there are any words to really capture this horrific event. This was the worst thing that I have ever experienced and witnessed."