Grenfell Tower firefighter tells inquiry of ‘weird’ blaze with no heat
Daniel Brown revealed when he realised that the block’s compartmentation had failed to control the inferno.
A firefighter who leant out of a window to blast the spreading Grenfell Tower blaze has told an inquiry he realised the compartmentation design had “failed”.
Daniel Brown, from the North Kensington station, was sent to the fourth floor of the west London block to tackle a kitchen fire on June 14 2017.
He described finding a “weird” blaze that was unlike anything in his 27 years of experience as a firefighter, because he could feel no heat.
The crew member recalled spotting a “candle” of flame outside the window after they had extinguished the first fire around the fridge, which he leant out to spray.
His breathing apparatus was held by colleague Charles Batterbee to stop him falling from the window.
Giving evidence at the inquiry into the disaster on Friday, Mr Brown said: “I could see both columns were alight and I needed to attack them both.
“The one on the left was approximately 5ft away from me, the one on the right was a lot closer, I attacked them both and I’m having no effect, water is just bouncing off and I’m thinking ‘OK, we’ve got a problem here, I can’t put this out’.
“You’ve literally got water hitting metal, it’s as if you wrap a load of paper, put it in the back seat of the car, set it alight, make sure all the doors are shut, all the windows are shut, lock it and then say to me ‘now put that out, you’re not allowed to break the door, you’re not allowed to open the window, you’re not allowed to use a key, all you’ve got is a jet’.
“All you’re doing is essentially washing the car and that was the situation I faced there and then.
“I tried knocking the panels off, tried getting between perhaps what they were, I don’t know if they were gaps or what, just black areas.
“I tried everything, nothing was happening.”
Asked, based on his experience, what he thought had happened, he said: “Compartmentation had failed.”
Compartmentation is a fire safety feature in high-rise blocks which should ensure a blaze does not spread beyond the flat of origin.
It was the key tenet of the stay-put advice given to residents in Grenfell Tower, meaning that once fire had breached further flats the policy was compromised.
Fire chiefs have been criticised for failing to abandon the stay-put strategy until the inferno had raged for almost two hours, potentially costing lives.
But Mr Brown told the hearing at Holborn Bars: “I could not foresee that it was going to travel all the way to the top of the building, you would like to think there are some sort of fire-breaks, where it would reach and stop.”
An expert report by Dr Barbara Lane found that the fire-breaks had been incorrectly installed on Grenfell Tower.
Mr Brown said he used to visit the site regularly, but after the responsibility of fire regulation enforcement was taken away from the brigade, he witnessed standards slip.
He said: “The noticeable difference, which probably goes back up to around 2000, it was when we were fire safety enforcers and since that has been removed from us there has been a noticeable change in things that weren’t in place.
“Fire lifts, emergency lighting, fire doors.”
At the time what is noticeable is there is no heat, no sign of fire, I am confused Daniel Brown, firefighter
Mr Brown talked counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC through thermal imaging footage of the firefighters entering the block.
Of his entry to the kitchen, he said: “At the time what is noticeable is there is no heat, there is no sign of fire, I’m confused.
“I think at one point I thought: ‘Am I in the right flat?’.”
He could see a fire in the corner and blasted it with water, which is when a “curtain” of flame near the window first became apparent.
The window frame in Flat 16 had broken and the fire had started to escape on to the flammable cladding outside.
Mr Brown continued: “I have never seen anything like this before.
“This is not normal, there is not heat, there is a flame in front of me that is raging in a weird rectangle, everything was wrong about it to be a fire in a room.”