A control room supervisor who fielded 999 calls from Grenfell Tower felt “very, very uncomfortable” about stay-put advice one hour into the fire, an inquiry has heard.
Residents inside the burning block were instructed to remain in their flats until 2.47am on June 14 last year, nearly two hours after emergency services were first called.
Alexandra Norman, a temporary operations manager at the London Fire Brigade (LFB), lost confidence in the strategy by 2am, the inquiry into the blaze was told on Thursday.
But a lack of communication from crews battling the inferno meant it was unclear whether it would be safe to tell residents to escape, she claimed.
Stay-put advice is only considered desirable if a flat is not directly affected by smoke or fire.
Norman had spoken to callers who reported both.
The LFB has faced fierce criticism for not ordering an evacuation of the 24-storey block until 2.47am.
Norman told a hearing at Holborn Bars: “I had absolutely no confirmation of the conditions inside that building, we could be sending them into more toxic and worse conditions than their flats were at that point.
“Not knowing what you would be sending them out to felt more of a risk to me.”
The operations manager was the most senior figure in the control room in Stratford, east London, when the fire broke out at 12.54am.
She spoke directly with several eventual victims of the disaster, including 56-year-old Denis Murphy.
A transcript of her call with the trapped father showed her reluctance to accept flames had already reached his 14th floor flat from the original flat on the fourth floor.
Their exchange underscored an apparent lack of awareness among LFB control room staff about how rapidly and catastrophically the block was being incinerated.
Radio silence from those tackling the fire directly had been further compounded by the absence of live footage from helicopter cameras in the temporary Stratford control room, the inquiry heard.
By 2am, Norman was questioning the wisdom of stay-put advice, as she knew flats were usually designed to withstand fires for an hour.
She told the inquiry: “Coming up to that hour mark we were still getting lots of calls from people that were trapped and I was becoming very, very uncomfortable with it – much more so than earlier on.
“That is the time that compartments are safe, you are safe to stay in your flat for up to an hour and we were approaching that hour.”
Asked by Richard Millett QC, the inquiry’s top lawyer, whether she took any action at that point, she said: “Not at that point, no – we didn’t know what the situation was in the building.”
Pressed on when she first felt the fire was “out of control”, Norman said: “Probably around that time, about 2am-ish, it had been going on for a long time, over an hour, but we still had nothing back from the fireground and we had no details about what was going on.”
The control room received more calls requiring fire survival guidance (FSG) that night than in all of the previous decade across the capital.
Due to the overwhelming demand, senior managers had no time to contact command unit vehicles at the west London block to ask for an update, Norman said.
Access to the helicopter footage would have meant there was “a lot more awareness” about what was happening, but the team “would have still felt that it was safer to keep people in their flats because we couldn’t see the interior”, she added.
It also emerged during Thursday’s hearing that residents who had been told to stay put by 999 operators were not called back when the advice was ditched.
LFB has a policy not to contact previous callers, meaning those instructed to await rescue inside would not realise evacuation was now recommended unless they happened to ring 999 again.
Norman said it would have been “impossible” and “time-consuming” to get in touch with everyone who had been told to stay put.