Lead firefighter tells Grenfell inquiry he was “out of comfort zone”

The firefighter who led the response to the Grenfell blaze had no knowledge of how the inferno was burning out of control and was not trained in reversing “stay put” advice.
Watch manager Michael Dowden, who broke down in tears while giving evidence to the public inquiry into the blaze, said he had never experienced a fire like Grenfell.
 
He told the inquiry that on his way to the blaze, crew manager Christopher Secrett had radioed to say the fourth floor kitchen fire that started the inferno had been put out.
 
But Mr Dowden, who was on his way to the scene, could see that there was fire “sparking and spitting” on the outside of the building.
 
He told the hearing: “I had no previous knowledge on how that building was reacting! I had nothing to fall back on, no default in terms of my own previous knowledge about how that building was reacting at that moment in time.
 
“I did feel out of my comfort zone because I didn't have any previous experience to fall back on in terms of how that building was behaving and reacting.”
 
When asked about whether he had any training on reversing the “stay put” guidance, he answered: “No. Not that I can recall, no.”
 
Mr Dowden was also questioned about whether he had been trained to inform fire control to change that advice. He answered: “Not any training. I can’t recall that I received any training as to how that was done.”
 
The “stay put” guidance works if the fire is contained in an evacuated flat, but the Grenfell Tower flames spread quickly.
 
Mr Dowden – who had previously been decorated for his work during last year’s Parsons Green terror attack – was in charge during the first hour of the fire, which was reported shortly before 1am.
He also told the inquiry he was not qualified to oversee fires that needed more than four fire engines. Four were initially sent to the scene, but two more were called shortly after 1am. Mr Dowden also told the hearing that fire officers were unable to reach the top floors of the high-rise because the water pressure would be “almost non-existent”.
 
The inquiry had previously heard the dry-rise system used at Grenfell was not appropriate for a building so tall.

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