London fire: ‘I am not a hero’ says IT expert who ran into burning Grenfell tower and rescued 11 people

A computer expert today described how he helped rescue 11 people from the Grenfell Tower disaster — but said he did not feel like a hero.

Sergej Smirnov, 32, ran into the  24-storey tower block in the minutes after the fatal fire broke out. 

The Russian national, born in Latvia, went to the high-rise block after smelling the blaze while in bed in his nearby flat. He helped guide people on the lower floors to safety. 

He made it up the fire escape to the third floor where he helped bring a woman in her sixties from her flat downstairs through thick smoke.

Mr Smirnov tried to reach the fourth floor, where the blaze had started shortly before 1am last Wednesday, to rescue others but was overcome by fumes and forced back down to the ground floor.


Residents wait at a police cordon after the Grenfell Tower burst into flames (Nigel Howard)

Back outside he said he performed CPR — which he learned on a first-aid course in his homeland while preparing for military service — on a woman pulled from the building before she was rushed to hospital by paramedics.

Meanwhile he dodged falling bits of flaming shrapnel “almost the size of footballs” from the building as they fell to the ground, before firefighters cleared the area amid fears the building would collapse.

Mr Smirnov told the Standard: “I didn’t know anyone inside the burning building but I couldn’t just let people suffer without a chance of helping them. I just ran in.


Mr Smirnov ran into the burning tower block. (Anton Phatianov/

“I didn’t really think about how dangerous it was until I made it to the fourth floor. I couldn’t go further upstairs, it was impossible to breathe. I felt faint and thought I might pass out. I feared I could have put my life at risk then.

“When I got down and looked up all I could see was fire. It was terrifying.”

However, he added: ”I am not a hero. I just tried to do something. It is the firefighters who are the true heroes and they deserve praise and no criticism for what they did in that fire.”

Grenfell Tower Firefighters – In pictures

He revealed he had battled the fire despite undergoing a procedure on his heart in February. 

Mr Smirnov, who has lived in London for the past seven years, said the “horrors” he saw included a man falling to his death from a window some 20 metres from him as the inferno worsened. 

“It will all stay with me for ever,” he said. 

The computer expert, who works for IT company Yousoft, based in nearby Westbourne Park, has received widespread praise for his actions, including from the Russian Embassy. 

Gita Petkevica, managing director of fintech company Opal Transfer, speaking on behalf of the Latvian community in the UK, said: “We are all truly inspired by the courage and selflessness shown by Sergej. For him to know no family or friends involved in the fire but to risk his own life going to help is remarkable.”

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