Grenfell Tower: Rookie firefighter saved people just five days into job

A rookie firefighter just five days into her new job has described the “absolute chaos” as she battled to save residents during the Grenfell Tower horror blaze.

April Cachia, 26, had only just completed the 11-week training course to become a London firefighter when she was called to the Notting Hill tower block on Wednesday morning.

She arrived with her crew from Shoreditch station to be confronted by one of the most devastating fires in British history, with at least 79 people presumed to have been killed in the blaze.

Ms Cachia said it was the first time she had seen “actual flames” and the crew was met by “chaotic” scenes.

The Queen visits the scene of the Grenfell Tower tragedy

She told the Telegraph: “The smell of smoke, the sound of crackling, the sound of debris hitting the ground, children screaming, people handing you their phones to speak to their loved ones – they’re the things you won’t ever forgot.

“Our guvnor explained to us that it was a 40 pump fire, which means 40 fire engines need to be at the scene.

“That’s such a rare occurrence that we kind of all just looked at each other and thought ‘wow’. I didn’t have anything to compare it to – this was the first proper job really where I have seen actual flames.”

Grenfell Tower: footage shows scale of destruction

Ms Cachia, who lives with her mother in Bethnal Green, east London, said at first she tried to help desperate residents flee the tower before suddenly escapees stopped coming down the stairs.

Conditions in the staircase were so cramped, fire crews were told they could stay outside to help or go into the burning building without their full breathing apparatus and just their eye gear.

Ms Cachia entered the flats with her partner and ended up helping people up on the 10th floor.

Despite her inexperience, Ms Cachia was able to help 20 people escape the blaze.


A firefighter wipes away tears during a minute’s silence for the victims (Dominic Lipinski/PA )

After her daring rescue, she told of a “courageous” woman who while still in the building alerted her to a blind neighbour still trapped in his flat.

Ms Cachia added: “There were lots of people screaming in the streets that their family are inside, that they can’t find them, that people are missing, they want help.”

“You try and block out as much of your emotion as you can so you can do the best job that you can. It was absolute chaos. I think at this point the police were still trying to get the streets under control”.  

“My partner Paul and I just looked at each other and said shall we just get in there?

“At this point there are loads of people coming out so you’ve got hope and you’re excited and you’re like, yes we are saving people. And then slowly as time goes on the numbers stop coming it gets quieter and quieter.

She added: “That woman was so courageous, she had been choking and crying and screaming but stopped and shook me to tell me.

“She just really cared for him – that unity of the neighbours in that block, you could tell they were such a close community.”

The blaze ripped through the 24-storey building in the early hours of Wednesday, leaving residents trapped in the high rise block.

Police confirmed on Monday morning that at least 79 people died.

Despite the traumatic scenes, Ms Cachia said she is looking forward to going back to work with the London Fire Brigade.

She said: “Although I’m only 26, I’m quite headstrong and will be able to get through this. I can deal with it and move on, once I’ve cried about it enough.”

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