London firefighters have revealed how they were willing to sacrifice their own lives while trying to save tenants of the Grenfell tower fire.
The crew gave their heartbreaking accounts of what it was like fighting the blaze, which killed at least 80 people, in a new ITV documentary series, Inside London Fire Brigade.
London Fire Brigade Commander Richard Welch, who was one of the first senior officers on the scene, said: “There is a feeling of being extremely proud of what we did and how hard everyone worked.
“But there’s also that horrific feeling of…we didn’t get everybody. And we tried. Really hard.”
Welch also spoke about his concerns about the structure of the tower block as the fire tore through the 24-story building but said the crew had “no intention of coming out of there until we had saved as many people as we could.”
He said: “If it was going to collapse, then we were going to die trying. Every single person within that building was willing to lose their own life to try to save others. Every single person.”
After receiving a call at 1.18am about a flat fire at Grenfell Tower, it quickly became apparent the firefighters on duty were going to be dealing with a major incident, Welch said.
“Initially they had six machines there. Then they asked for eight, and then 10, and then 15, 20 and then 25,” he said.
London Fire Brigade Commander Pat Goulbourne, who said he knew and had visited Grenfell Tower before, said: “As I was approaching it, I just knew we had probably the job of our lives on the go because already I could see fire from the lower floors and I couldn’t believe I was looking at fire to the top floor.
“I’ve never seen anything like that, ever. The fire was changing, it was moving rapidly.”
Firefighters also described the chaotic scenes inside the tower as the crew set up their operational base, or bridgehead, on the second floor, two floors below the fire.
Welch said: “We had our hoses going up the staircase. We had people trying to get out coming down the staircase.
“We’ve got firefighters going up the staircase and the staircase was filling with smoke. So the priority was really to try to reach the flats we knew had people in. The issue we had was the intensity of the fire”.
Goulbourne said he could hear people screaming and making signals for help, adding that men, women and children were coming out “fully sooted” after making their way through the heavy smoke.
The firefighters featured in the documentary also reflect on the days after the tragedy when several chose to return to the scene.
Goulbourne, who was among them, said: “While I was there I spoke to some people in the community and they were just, you know, they were amazing.
“I can’t imagine what’s it’s like for them. How does a community deal with something so big? You know deep down professionally, you know deep down, you did everything and more. But it doesn’t make you feel any better.”
London Borough Commander Steve Dudeney added: “You know there were firefighters laying about with haunted looks in their eyes. After 30 years in the London Fire Brigade I didn’t ever expect to see anything like that. And I pray to God I never will again.”
TV crews followed London Fire Brigade for a year, showing their challenges and responses to a wide range of emergencies.
Firefighters wore body cameras to film themselves from the front line during the making of the series but no body camera footage will be shown in the episode on Grenfell.
Inside London Fire Brigade starts tonight at 9pm on ITV.