A firefighter who searched the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower for a young girl has tearfully explained he “did not know” anyone was trapped in the flat next door.
David Badillo, part of the North Kensington crew that arrived first at the inferno, undertook a “personal rescue mission” to find 12-year-old Jessica Urbano Ramirez in Flat 176, an inquiry heard.
He ran up 12 floors in the burning block with a 15kg breathing apparatus on his back – only to find the door to the 20th-floor flat ajar and the schoolgirl missing.
The 20-year veteran of the brigade repeatedly broke down as he gave evidence at the inquiry into the disaster on Friday.
At the close of the hearing at Holborn Bars, he was asked whether he had knocked on the door of Flat 175 or shouted inside.
Four members of the same family from that flat died in the fire – Farah Hamdan, her husband Omar Belkadi and children Malak and Leena.
Mr Badillo recounted his doomed rescue bid in heartbreaking detail as part of a written statement submitted to the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, published on Friday.
He wrote that he was “massively affected” by the tragedy and “cried every day” when he learnt that Jessica had died on the 23rd floor.
Mr Badillo first encountered Jessica’s “panicked and anxious” sister at the foot of the tower and took the keys to her flat.
He decided to break “normal procedure” and head above the floor where the fire began, without telling anyone.
A poignant moment came when the firefighter found out for the first time on Friday that his colleague, crew manager Chris Secrett, knew a 12-year-old girl from the 20th floor was on the phone to a 999 operator.
The call lasted 55 minutes and the control room knew she had sought shelter on the 23rd floor.
Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, asked: “If you had been told that Jessica was in flat 201 on the 23rd floor, what would you have done?”
“I would have gone up to 201,” replied the firefighter, his voice cracking.
He was offered a break by chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick but sat with his head turned away, quietly sobbing, for several seconds as he tried to regain composure.
His harrowing account illustrated how the unexpected speed of the inferno’s spread caught emergency services by surprise.
Mr Badillo initially entered the lift to the 20th floor without breathing apparatus, but was swamped with “thick, black smoke” when it stopped on floor 15.
The firefighter recalled walking past “panicked” firefighters and recruiting crew manager Chris Secrett and Chris Dorgu to accompany him to the 20th floor.
The lift again stopped, this time at the eighth floor, and he went ahead of his colleagues to the 20th floor with an “adrenaline rush”, his statement said.
The door to Flat 176 was “slightly ajar” and inside it was “smoke-logged completely”.
He wrote: “I checked all of the typical hiding places, under the bed and in the cupboards, but did not find anyone.”
Radio communication on the night “completely failed”, the firefighter said on Friday as he condemned the breathing apparatus equipment as “like something from the Dark Ages”.
He said he would have expected “heavy radio traffic”, but it was silent on the 20th floor.
Mr Badillo told the hearing: “What firefighters rely on is communication to do the job properly.”
More firefighters are expected to give evidence at the inquiry next week.