A watch manager begged his superiors to abandon the ‘stay-put’ advice given to Grenfell Tower residents within minutes of arriving at the burning block, the official inquiry was told.
Norman Harrison, who was watch manager from Wembley, was called to the scene at 1:15am – 20 minutes after London Fire Brigade received its first call – and quickly realised something was wrong.
Mr Harrison, who has 25 years’ experience, told the inquiry in a written statement that he had “never seen a fire like it” and the intensity was like “the surface of the sun”.
He also told the hearing that he tried to get the stay-put strategy abandoned much earlier and concluded the strategy was redundant by around 1.50am
Mr Harrison said: “I was truly shocked at such a severe fire over so many floors.
“Immediately I knew that stay-put policy should no longer apply in this building, because the stay-put policy is predicated upon the assumption that someone can stay in their flat, safe, from the one compartment that is alight somewhere in the building and they’re not going to be affected by the fire, either flames, heat or smoke.
“I could see that just didn’t apply here any more.”
Mr Harrison said he knew from previous experience that each flat would be designed to withstand flames for 60 minutes – but he estimated it would take six hours to reach the top floor.
“I knew that our telephone operators at Merton HQ would be telling people to stay put in their flat and that the fire brigade would come and rescue them,” he explained.
“In reality I didn’t think that there would be an opportunity to rescue people on the upper floors and I strongly felt that the advice needed to be changed from the stay-put policy to almost a simultaneous decision to evacuate.”
“I wouldn’t change anything”, fire boss tells inquiry
The head of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has told the Grenfell inquiry that she "would not change anything" the service did on the night of the tragedy.
Commissioner Dany Cotton likened the tragedy to "a space shuttle landing in front of the Shard" and “9/11".
Questioned on the potential failings of the LFB, including the decision to order residents to stay in their flats rather than evacuate, she said she had learned no lessons from the night which would have enabled the policy to be reversed sooner.
Asked what she would do if she could go back to June 14 last year and change one thing she said: "I would not change anything we did on the night.”
Survivors shook their heads as Ms Cotton defended the "fantastic" actions of her fire service, recalling the heavy burden of committing crews "to their potential death”.
Asked why she did not ask officers upon arriving to the scene why the “stay-put” advice to residents had not been changed earlier, she said: "At that moment in time it was far more important to collect the information with the ongoing situation. The priority at that point was to save life.”
When questioned about why the policy was not revoked earlier, Ms Cotton said it was due to the "very narrow" single staircase evacuation route.