Grenfell Tower firefighters describe heroic rescues… and one heartbreaking decision on who to save

One week on from the devastating Grenfell Tower blaze, London firefighters have been sharing stories of their heroic rescues at the burning block.

In posts shared on social media, one man described his impossible decision on whether to save a couple or risk climbing further floors to find a family of five.

Another described how a colleague, finding his vision impaired by the thick smoke, mistakenly ended up on the 11th rather than the 9th floor and discovered another family trying to survive.

The unnamed man found Natasha Elcock, 39, along with her boyfriend and six-year-old daughter who had deliberately overflowed their bath to keep back the flames.

Startling video of the inside of Grenfell Tower after it was destroyed

His colleague explained : “His  brief was to make it up to the 9th floor and search the flats on that floor. 

“He could not see further than six inches in front of his breathing mask and the heat was intense. He passed firefighters attending to casualties on the stairwell. 

“Past floor five there were no actual markings on the stairs to tell them what floor they were on. Communications broke down between him and officers outside the building.

“He arrived on what he thought was the 9th floor which he later learnt was the 11th floor. 

“He broke into a flat and rescued a family that had actually filled a bath full of water and let it overflow so they could lie in puddles of water to keep cool and avoid the poisonous gases caused by the fire above their heads. 

“He led them down to safety and then re-entered the building to continue searching having confirmed that other crews were searching the 9th floor.”

Grenfell Tower Firefighters – In pictures

The colleague said he was bowled over by the upset firefighter’s reaction when he told him he was a hero.

“His reply was ‘no, my brief was to search the 9th floor and I searched the 11th floor’. 

“He struggled to accept that he probably saved the lives of the family on the 11th and other crews had searched the 9th floor anyway.

“What an understated legend and a hero.”

Pete Drummond, a West Midlands fire officer, shared another anonymous account of the brigade’s experience inside the inferno and a crew’s desperate attempt to make it to the 23rd floor with just one cylinder of air.

Discovering a couple several floors below, he described the harrowing decision of whether to save them or to still try and make it up to help a family of five.


The blaze in Notting Hill (Jeremy Selwyn)

The firefighter wrote: “We made our way up a crowded stairwell struggling to make progress, at times unable to pass because of the amount of people on the stairs. 

“The stairwells were full of other breathing apparatus (BA) crews bringing people down all in various states and conditions.

“The smoke grew thicker with each floor we went up. No proper floor numbers on the stairwells after about the 5th floor made it hard to know where you were. 

“Someone before us had tried to write them on the wall with chinagraph pencil but this didn’t last long. The dirty smoke was covering the walls with a film of blackness.”


The scene of the major fire in Notting Hill. (Nigel Howard)

He went on: “Around the 9th floor we lost all visibility and the heat was rising. Still we continued up and up through the blackness. 

“We reached what we believed to be the 19th/20th floor but there was no way to tell. It was here where we found a couple trying to find their way out, panicking, choking, blinded by the thick toxic air.

“A quick gauge check showed us that the amount of floors we’d climbed had taken its toll, we were getting low on air. There’s no way we could make it to the 23rd and back to the bridgehead.

“The couple were shouting and screaming at us through the coughing, trying to tell us there were 5 more people on the floor above!

“Now I had horrible decisions to make and a very short amount of time to make them.”

He ran through all the ramifications of his decision – would he have enough air to get to the next floor, would he even find the family, could the couple get out unaided?

Heartbreakingly, he had to ask: “Can I accept/live with the thought that saving two lives is better than taking the risk to go up and potentially saving no one?”

In the end, he and a couple decided on taking the couple. He wrote: “Taking a casualty each, we set off. 

“Within two floors both of us had been pushed down one of the flight of the stairs by our casualties. They are screaming at us that they couldn’t breath.

“We try to reassure them. Stay with me! We are going to get you out! Please stay with me!”


Fire service personnel survey the damage to Grenfell Tower (PA)

He went on: “Down and down we go… I hear a shout from behind me from my partner, the female casualty has become unconscious. My partner is now having to drag her down alone. I can’t help at this time.

“Two floors later we find another crew making their way out. One of them is carrying a little girl. I hand off my casualty to the firefighter who has a free set of hands, please take him out I shout, we’ll be right behind you.

“I turn to go but with that he hands me something I’d not seen initially. Wait! What! I’m handed a firefighters helmet!

“This can’t be good! Why does he have this? Where is the firefighter it belongs to!

“As I turn round and go back up one turn of the stairs I see him. He’s missing his helmet but he’s with my BA partner.

“He’s got no helmet and no breathing apparatus. Are you ok? Where’s your BA set!?

“He’s given it to a casualty.. he’s coughing as he tells us, he’s delirious from the heat and smoke.

“Still he tries to help carry the casualty! Helping others is still his first thought.

“I shout at him.. ‘Get down those stairs, get down to the bridgehead!’ I take the casualties arms my BA partner has her legs.

The firefighter described his relief as he made it outside, seeing his watch manager’s white helmet through the blackness.

He wrote: “Some time later, I couldn’t say how long, we are all grouped together waiting for news. A senior officer is telling us he knows we’ve already broken all the policies we have.

“He knows the risks we’ve taken but thats not enough we are going to have to take more! There are still a lot more people who need us.

“He says he’s going ask us to do things that would normally be unimaginable. To put our lives at risk even more than we already have.

“Everyone is looking round at each other listening to this officer try to motivate us into action again. He didn’t need to though, we are ready for it! This is what we train for.

“Those colleagues who a little while ago were collapsed and broken from on the grass from their first entry are back up, ready, stood in full kit waiting for their orders to go in again.”

“Now lots of things happened during the time I was outside,” he wrote. 

“Some people were rescued alive, some unfortunately weren’t. People jumped, a mother threw a baby from a floor high up, caught by a complete stranger arms just so she could get it away from the fire.

“All this time hour after hour my colleagues were pushing themselves above and beyond what you’d think was humanly possible.”

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