Despite blinding smoke and the molten walls that were collapsing around them, London’s firefighters charged into the inferno raging in Grenfell Tower. ITV’s new series “Inside the London Fire Brigade” was there as the horror unfolded.
For the past 12 months, cameras have been recording a unique insight into the men and women tasked with keeping London safe from fire. Wearing body cameras, firefighters filmed themselves for the three-part documentary as they responded to a series of emergency situations.
Never was this more graphically illustrated than on the night of the Grenfell Tower tragedy. The cameras were there to capture the terror as fire engulfed the building, causing London’s biggest loss of life to fire since World War 2. Walls, floors and ceilings were melting before their eyes as firefighters tried to save those trapped in the inferno.
The calm efficiency of these professionals was a tribute to their training and their incredible team ethic. They spoke in a matter of fact way about temperatures normally associated with firing pottery, not to mention the very real risk that the building could collapse around them.
Public lives come first
The overwhelming impression from these harrowing scenes is the priority given to saving lives. The fire fighters’ own safety comes second to the lives of the Grenfell residents.
Richard Welch, (left) a borough commander with the London Fire Brigade, was one of the first to arrive at the scene and spoke about how quickly the situation deteriorated. “We had no intention of coming out of there until we had saved as many people as we could,” he said.
“If it was going to collapse we were going to die trying.” Some of the firefighters returned to Grenfell Tower days later, and Welch recalled the pride felt by the firefighters, tinged with sorrow at being unable to save everyone.
Another fire fighter that night was rescue crew manager Edric Kennedy-MacFoy. The priority for his team was getting people out of the building, despite parts of the building collapsing around them.
Kennedy-MacFoy’s team was also involved when a tram derailed at Croydon’s Sandilands Junction in November 2016. Seven people were killed and some of their bodies were trapped under the overturned carriages. Revealing another side of Fire Brigade work, he explained that “it’s not just about pulling them out and putting the bodies in a cart. We do it with love and care for the families”. The tram was painstakingly lifted inch by inch before the bodies were carefully removed.
The work of the Fire and Rescue service is taken for granted by much of the public. If there is a fire we know we can call 999, ask for the Fire Brigade and hey presto, minutes later they are there to control the danger with minimal fuss. Tragedies like Grenfell and the Croydon tram crash highlight the selfless role these men and women perform.
Later in the program, some of the firefighters talked about how they deal with the horror of some call-workouts. We see the unbelievably close bond formed by teams of men and women.
For some, the camaraderie is much more valuable than the support of trained counsellors, preferring instead to talk to people who really understand what they go through on a daily basis.
It is worth remembering that trainee firefighters start their career on a salary of just over £22,000 a year. Put another way, for risking their lives on a daily basis to keep us safe, firefighters are paid just over £10 per hour.
The London Fire Brigade is quite simply a team of heroes.
Inside the London Fire Brigade – ITV1 (Thursdays) and ITV Player
by Ian Hine