A veteran firefighter with 22 years’ experience has told of the panicked moment he feared he would die as he attempted to save a 12-year-old girl from the higher floors of Grenfell Tower.
Christopher Dorgu, who said he had been with Kensington Red Watch for 19 years, accompanied firefighters Christopher Secrett and David Badillo on a rescue effort to flat 176 – the family home of a schoolgirl reported trapped, Jessica Urbano Ramirez.
They arrived to find the 20th-floor flat smoke-logged and the youngster nowhere to be seen.
The 12-year-old was one of 71 people who died on June 14 last year.
Low on oxygen, the trio attempted to escape down the stairs but Mr Dorgu said he was surprised the escape route was filled with thick smoke and in total darkness.
In a written statement to the public inquiry into the fire, he said: “Chris had no air, I thought f*** I’m gonna die. Chris said ‘I gotta go I got no air’. I set off down the stairs but the smoke was so thick.”
He said he could not see his hand in front of his face and the temperature continued to rise as they descended the stairs, getting closer to the fire.
Moments before, he had described hearing his colleague’s whistle sounding – a warning that he had low oxygen levels left.
He went on: “My whistle was going now as well and I couldn’t find Dave. I was running up and down looking for him as I couldn’t leave him. I was trying to get the bridgehead on the radio. I was screaming his name and finally found him looking for me.
“Somehow Dave went past me even though the stairwell was so narrow that you could only just get someone past you with all the equipment on. Then suddenly he was there beside me.”
Mr Dorgu was able to escape the tower with his crew mates but later went back inside to help take “charred” casualties outside.
His statement went on: “My chest was searing with pain, my lungs were screaming; the air was so thick. I threw them on a stretcher. I was on my knees, I couldn’t breathe. All the people I brought out looked dead.”
It was at this point he realised “dozens would die”.
He said: “Some people were giving advice on the phone but I don’t know what advice or when the advice changed if it did.
“We have stay-put advice thinking it is the right advice. To tell people to come out would be disastrous.”
Mr Dorgu told counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett that the policy was “borne out of building control” and based on the presumption that fires would stay confined to the compartment they broke out in.
Asked if he had any training on alternative search and rescue or evacuation methods if a fire in a high-rise spread, he said: “No.”
He said he felt there should have been two sets of stairs, as the single narrow stairwell had made progress “incredibly difficult” for firefighters.
He added in his statement: “Either stay put or get out would be the wrong advice due to how rapidly the building deteriorated. The smoke extraction system wasn’t working. We could of done with masks for casualties to give portable fifteen minutes.”