The Havering Daily has exclusively spoken to former fighter and fire chief Steve Dudeney about the recent Grenfell Tower findings.
Mr Dudeney who lives in Hornchurch served as a firefighter for thirty years and tells the Havering Daily about the horrors the London Fire Brigade faced on that tragic night. He was at the time the Borough Commander for Hackney and one of the most experienced officers on scene.
“I arrived the following morning at 8am and had seen the horrors unfolding on the television. When I arrived I saw the incredible external damage the building had suffered and was then shocked to see how the morning after the fire was then starting to burn from inside to outside.
Steve goes on to inform us on the reasons why the London Fire Brigade had advised people to stay in their flats and not come out, a factor the brigade have been criticised on since.
“In 1962 buildings began to be designed in way that allowed people a ‘stay put’ policy. Meaning, because of fire doors and alarms it was safe to stay put. The fire could be compartmentalised and treated this way.
“There are many fires in high rise blocks and this is always how we have dealt with them with the ‘stay put’ policy. Now we know that this issue needs to be reviewed.
“Straight after Grenfell the London Fire Brigade identified two and a half thousand buildings with similar cladding and now we have a database with with building information on it to use. However, we still don’t know about the inside of buildings, special fire engineer knowledge is needed to gather that.
“We would also like to see a form of public address system installed for emergency use. After Grenfell we established the fact that loud hailers don’t work with all the noise and smoke going on they can’t often be heard plus for those who don’t have English as first language they need a way to understand what is going on.
“The Fire Brigade were in an impossible position, we were damned if we did and damned if we didn’t.
“The report suggests that perhaps people could have been evacuated. If we had gone against national policy it is possible more people could have been led to their deaths. It could have been the same scenario as the Bethnal Green tube disaster seventy five years ago that was a complete stampede.
“All fire engines have smoke rescue hoods now for firefighters to hand out and at every high rise building, between five to eight fire engines attend. The London Fire Brigade have done a lot.
“I was very proud of my firefighters. I had one firefighter a young lady who had finished her training on the Sunday and attended Grenfell the following Tuesday. Her and her partner went into that building repeatedly that night.
“I remember him coming up to me and telling me, ‘ I thought we were going to die, I thought either the building would collapse on us or we would just run out of air”.
Yet those firefighters entered the building as many times as they could to save as many people as they could.
“That’s a firefighter’s job, the emotion of the night and the responsibility of their job means they put their life at risk. We rescued sixty five people, that’s an unprecedented number. Conditions inside were intolerable. You couldn’t see your hand. There was floor after floor of smoke and the railings were burning hot, firefighters had no water after a certain level and most had to crawl on their bellies to get around. I have never seen anything like this before”.