"We arrived about 0120hrs but due to the way cars are parked in the streets and the fire engines that are arriving with us we couldn't get closer than 4-5 streets away from the building. Other trucks were closer they would be setting up water ready for us."
"We could see this was a bad one immediately. The sky was glowing. Leaving our truck we started quickly towards it. Picking up pace we are carrying our BA sets on our back, while making our way we are trying to read the conditions in front of us, trying to take in as much information as we could. How big is the tower, where is the fire, where is the fire going next, how's it behaving, how many flats are internally affected, how many people are in there? "
"We mustered outside the entrance. Parts of the building we already starting to fall down on to the surrounding area.
As we entered the building the fire on the outside was raging from the top to the bottom.
Walking up to the bridgehead on the 3rd floor we were told to look at a floor plan that had been hastily drawn on a wall.
We stood looking at it waiting at entry control to be given instructions my BA partner and I stood waiting with other firefighters waiting to see what information there was available. Then we received our brief... 23rd floor people stuck in their flat go!
23rd floor? I repeat back.. giving the flat number I received to the Watch manager.
She confirms. I turned at told my BA as the reality of how high we are going to try and go on a single cylinder of air. "
"Weighed down carrying 30kg+ of equipment not including our firekit and breathing apparatus (BA) we passed through entry control handing in our tallies and confirming our brief.
We made our way up a crowed 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. 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 5 more people on the floor above! "
"Now I had horrible decisions to make and a very short amount of time to make them."
"In what I think would of 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 was 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? "
"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 decided who to take?"
"Do we have enough air to make it back down to safety ourselves from where we are? "
"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? "
"Ahh!! Come on think...!
Am I doing enough?
Can I give more?
Am I forgetting any of my training....? "