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Grenfell fire chief: I didn’t think they’d ever come out alive

Traumatised: LFB head Dany Cotton gives evidence

THE head of London Fire Brigade has told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry she did not know if all her firefighters would make it out alive from the deadly blaze.

Commissioner Dany Cotton said she was hit by an ‘overwhelming’ anxiety as crews were committed to the disaster that led to the deaths of 72 people in Kensington, west London, on June 14 last year.

She told the inquiry yesterday: ‘I recall I actually physically went and touched some firefighters when I spoke to them, because I was not a hundred per cent convinced in my mind that everybody was going to come out of there alive.

Offered comfort: Ms Cotton (centre) with firefighters inside Grenfell Tower in June last year PICTURE: PA

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

She added: ‘I wanted those firefighters 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 at committing firefighters to 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.’

But she added the brigade ‘should never have been put in that position to have responded to that incident in that way’.

The London Fire Brigade has been criticised for its ‘stay put’ policy, which saw it initially tell residents to remain in their flats, despite the ferocity of the flames.

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

Questioned by Richard Millett QC, she said if ‘a building behaves correctly’ then the ‘stay put’ advice is the safest option.

She said that she had learned no lessons from the night which would have enabled a decision to revoke that advice earlier.

Ms Cotton described the Grenfell fire as an ‘unrealistic scenario’ and 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.’

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.’

Exhausted: Firefighters rest after tackling the huge blaze PICTURE: LNP

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

The hearing at Holborn Bars, central London, was packed with survivors and those who had lost friends or family.

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.’

Speaking outside, Shahin Sadafi, of Grenfell United, a group representing survivors and the bereaved, said more needed to be done to acknowledge mistakes.

He said: ‘I’m not saying that Grenfell wasn’t unprecedented but I am saying there were mistakes made, and the fire service and everyone needs to acknowledge these mistakes.’