Firefighter’s tears for girl he tried to save from Grenfell Tower

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A firefighter who undertook a mission to save a 12-year-old girl from Grenfell Tower has described crying “every day” after learning of her death.

David Badillo, part of the North Kensington crew which arrived first at the inferno last June, promised the sister of Jessica Urbano Ramirez he would attempt to rescue her from the 20th floor.

He recounted the doomed rescue bid in heartbreaking detail as part of a written statement submitted to the Grenfell Tower public inquiry, published on Friday.

The firefighter battled through smoke-clogged corridors to reach Flat 176, Jessica’s family home, but found the door “ajar” and the young girl nowhere to be seen.

Jessica left to take shelter on the 23rd floor, where she was found dead.

Tower block fire in London
The kitchen in flat 16 where the fire started (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

“That afternoon, I found out that Jessica, the girl I had been looking for on the 20th floor, she was missing for some time and I attended vigils for her.

“As the family weren’t getting much official information, I was their point of contact. It was later discovered that she had died.

“Jessica had left her flat and gone up to the 23rd floor, with a group of people.

“In the following month I cried every day and talking about what happened was very upsetting.”

Mr Badillo first encountered Jessica’s “panicked and anxious” sister at the foot of the tower and took the keys to her flat.

He decided to break “normal procedure” and head above the floor where the fire began, without telling anyone.

Tower block fire in London
Firefighters lay their helmets on the ground during a minute’s silence (Jonathan Brady/PA)

He added: “I didn’t tell anyone what I was doing as there was so much going on – the radio was busy and by the time I had found someone to tell, I could have gotten the girl out.

“I also thought that I would be told no, but I was worried for the girl’s safety.”

His harrowing account illustrated how the unexpected speed of the inferno’s spread caught emergency services by surprise.

The 20-year veteran of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) initially entered the lift to the 20th floor without breathing apparatus, but was swamped with “thick, black smoke” when it stopped on floor 15.

He groped his way to the stairwell and headed outside, where he realised the blaze was looking “more dangerous” and “I needed to get back up to look for Jessica”.

Grenfell Tower “looked as though someone had poured petrol down the side” and water jets were having no effect, he wrote.

Tower block fire in London
Grenfell Tower on fire (Natalie Oxford/PA)

The lift again stopped, this time at the eighth floor, and he went ahead of his colleagues to the 20th floor with an “adrenaline rush”.

The door to Flat 176 was “slightly ajar” and inside it was “smoke-logged completely”.

He wrote: “I checked all of the typical hiding places, under the bed and in the cupboards, but did not find anyone. I had forgotten Jessica’s name by the time we got in to the flat.

“We were shouting out and searching by stamping and sweeping to feel our way round, using our torches.

“We were sure that we had completed a thorough search and that no-one was inside the flat.

“I felt that with the front door being found ajar and us searching the rooms twice that Jessica must have gotten out.”

Back outside, Mr Badillo described the unfolding horror as resembling a “disaster movie”, with material “exploding overhead” and “fireballs coming down all over the place”.

Tower block fire in London
The fire at Grenfell Tower claimed 72 lives (Yui Mok/PA)

Reflecting on the tragedy, he wrote: “It has deeply affected me and it is never far from my thoughts.

“I am angry that this fire happened and feel that there are many factors that made things worse.”

Mr Badillo said at the start of his appearance at the inquiry on Friday that he had discussed his evidence with others, including Jessica’s family.

Asked by lead counsel Richard Millett QC if he had talked about his account ahead of the hearing, he replied: “I have described what I did that night with people, yes.

“Family, and the family of the girl who we are talking about.”

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