Grenfell firefighter says rescue like ‘going down through a chimney’

A woman found near the top of Grenfell Tower was carried down at least 17 flights of stairs by firefighters and passed out during the perilous descent.

Paddington firefighter Martin Gillam described how he and four crewmates took it in turns to take her weight as they stumbled through intense heat, likening their escape route to a chimney.

The survivor later hugged and thanked Mr Gillam, who had gone to check up on her as she was being treated by paramedics.

Mr Gillam, who had been tasked with going up to the roof to fight the fire from above, decided to attempt the rescue after learning that crews had failed to reach a woman trapped on the 20th floor.

Wearing extended breathing apparatus giving them more time under oxygen, the crew of five climbed up and found the woman “coughing and spluttering” in the stairwell between the 20th and 21st floors.

One of the group, Dean Roberts, described the lobbies at the level as filled with “pure black” smoke and no lighting.

The casualty was initially “with it”, Mr Gillam said, but began screaming and fell unconscious at around the 17th or 18th floor.

Mr Roberts’s recollection was slightly different, saying he believed the Asian-looking female fell unconscious at a lower floor but that they had carried her from the top.

The woman gagged and vomited as the group carried her for the remainder of the descent, at points tripping on discarded water hoses.

In a written statement to the public inquiry, he said: “My whole head, my neck and ears was just burning.

“I remember saying to whoever was behind me ‘Are you burning?’ and he said Yeah, I’m burning’ so I said ‘We need to get out of here’.

“There wasn’t much visibility at all. We are probably on like (floor) 11 now. We are basically just going down through a chimney.

“I keep myself fit all the time but I had nothing, I was completely gone.

“I said to Deano (his colleague) ‘You’re going to have to take her or I’m going to drop her’. She has thrown up at this point and she was gone, she was out of consciousness.”

Once at the bottom of the tower, Mr Gillam gave the woman CPR before dodging falling debris and helping to carry her to the ambulance service.

Mr Gillam later checked up on her and she recognised him immediately, he said.

He described the woman as around 35-45, black, with short hair in cornrows, and wearing a headscarf.

He said: “We gave each other a hug. I said ‘You’re out now, you’re fine’ and she said ‘Thank you, thank you’.

“It was really quick. I just wanted to make sure she was alive.

“In this job you get people out of cars, trains or whatever and you never see them again.

“When she was up there she was fine and then we pretty much nearly killed her bringing her down because of the conditions so I wanted to know she was all right.”

“We managed to get her back – the CPR had worked.”

Seventy-two people died following the high-rise blaze in North Kensington on June 14 last year.

Firefighters are giving evidence for a fourth week in the first phase of the inquiry, which is being held at Holborn Bars in central London.

- Press Association

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