Fire commissioner ‘was not convinced crews would come out Grenfell Tower alive’

The chief of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) feared fire crews would not come out of Grenfell Tower and said they should never have been put in that position.

LFB Commissioner Dany Cotton said she was hit by an “overwhelming” anxiety as crews were committed, physically touching firefighters to give them a final positive memory of being comforted.

But she told the public inquiry into the fire the brigade “should never have been put in that position to have responded to that incident in that way”.

In a written statement to the inquiry, she said: “It has truly damaged some people who witnessed some terrible things and who will never forget them. They will wear the scars for the rest of their life.”

Ms Cotton revealed she was one of those marked by the night, suffering significant memory gaps because of the trauma, which she has received therapy for.

Dany Cotton
Dany Cotton

The room was packed with survivors of the tragedy, those who lost friends and family and local community members, with extra chairs put in to accommodate everybody.

Ms Cotton added: “People will quite rightly have questions, but for me I could not be more proud of the absolute commitment and dedication of the firefighters.

“They were clearly terrified of going into Grenfell Tower.”

The commissioner said she first went into the the high-rise to reassure and comfort firefighters because she did not know if they would all return from the fire alive.

She said: “I recall I actually physically went and touched some firefighters when I spoke to them, because I was not a hundred percent convinced in my mind that everybody was going to come out of there alive.

“The building was so hugely involved in fire; you cannot help but compare it to 9/11.”

She added: “I wanted those firefighter to have a positive reinforced memory before they went into the building of somebody saying nice things to them, being supportive and demonstrating to them that somebody really cared.”

Later, Ms Cotton said she was hit by overwhelming anxiety to be committing firefighters into a situation where she could not guarantee their safety.

She said: “The imperative was to save human life. The right to life is a basic function of human rights and we were servicing that human right.

“However, for the first time ever, I had an overwhelming continuous feeling of anxiety, of responsibility in committing firefighters into a building where I could not guarantee their safety.

“I’ve never felt that way before, and I have been in charge at hundreds of large scale operational incidents.

“It was a huge responsibility to know how many people were in there and that we were just going to keep committing and committing – even though there was a potential risk – but that was the decision we took.”

Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower

Quizzed by Richard Millett QC, the Commissioner defended the Brigade’s “stay-put” policy, saying if “a building behaves correctly” then the “stay put” advice is the safest option.

The LFB has been criticised for initially telling residents to remain in their flats despite the speed and ferocity of the inferno’s spread.

The basis of the policy is that fire should not spread between compartments – so a person in a separate, unaffected part of the building should be able to remain in their flat and await rescue safely.

Ms Cotton also revealed she had not received training on fire-spread over the facade of a high rise residential block or on cladding.

But she said the Grenfell fire would have been deemed an “unrealistic scenario”.

She told the inquiry: “I wouldn’t develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard.

“We would respond to it and deal with it in the same manner we do an incident of that scale.

“I wouldn’t expect us to be developing training or a response to something that simply shouldn’t happen.”

Some 71 people died in the fire on June 14 last year, with a 72nd victim dying months later.

The inquiry is hearing firefighter evidence at Holborn Bars, in central London.