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Firefighters feared for their lives as they tackled Grenfell Tower blaze

The Inquiry was told how emergency personnel battled breathing problems as they tried to save residents.

A veteran firefighter with 22 years’ experience 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 little girl nowhere to be seen.

The 12-year-old was one of 71 people who died on June 14 last year.

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Firefighter Christopher Dorgu giving evidence before the Grenfell Tower Inquiry (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

Low on oxygen, the trio attempted to escape down the stairs but Mr Dorgu said he was surprised to see their escape route 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.”

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.

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The fire at Grenfell Tower (Natalie Oxford/PA)

“I was trying to get the bridgehead on the radio.

“I was screaming his name and finally found him looking for me.”

On Monday, the inquiry was told how firefighters went up “very high”, as far as they could possibly go without killing themselves.

Brien O’Keeffe, coordinating search and rescue efforts from inside the tower, also recalled some personnel collapsing and being in a “bad state” upon their return.

Mr Dorgu was able to escape the tower with his crewmates but later went back inside to help take “charred” casualties outside.

“All the people I brought out looked dead,” he said.

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Firefighters lay their helmets on the ground as they observe a minute’s silence near Grenfell Tower (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Later, he recalled “shoving” sheets of paper with information from fire survival guidance calls through the door of the command unit near the tower, but that those handling these were “overwhelmed” at the volume coming in.

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… (it) changed if it did.

“We have stay-put advice thinking it is the right advice. To tell people to come out would be disastrous.”

He recalled advising a distressed resident that her bed-bound father, trapped on the 15th floor, was in the “safest place to be”, when he first entered the tower.

Either stay put or get out would be the wrong advice due to how rapidly the building deteriorated Christopher Dorgu

He believed it was “unthinkable” that the fire would spread up the building at such speed and so far.

However, he did not know that fire had spread to the seventh floor and only became aware flames were licking up the outside of the building when he exited the tower, turned around, and looked up.

Mr Dorgu told counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett that the stay-put policy was “borne out of building control” on the presumption that fires would stay confined to the compartment they broke out in.

He added that he felt evacuation would have been “virtually impossible” very early on in the fire due to the smoke-logged stairwell and lobbies.

He added in his statement: “Either stay put or get out would be the wrong advice due to how rapidly the building deteriorated.”

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”.

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