Firefighter ‘troubled for days’ after rescuing young girl from Grenfell Tower

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A firefighter has relived the harrowing rescue of a young girl who was the only surviving member of a family from Grenfell Tower.

Agnel Fernandes and his colleague Vincent Williams, both firefighters from Willesden, took the six-year-old child from flat 175, the 20th-floor home of the Belkadi family, an inquiry was told.

He heard a woman screaming “my baby” as they made a break for the stairs, realising the smoke was too toxic for the child to survive for long.

The youngster’s mother Farah Hamdan, father Omar Belkadi and sisters Malak and Leena all died that night.

Giving evidence at the Grenfell Tower inquiry on Monday, Mr Fernandes said he assumed the rest of the family would be saved by two colleagues also on the 20th floor.

His written statement set out in upsetting detail how they arrived at flat 175, through dense smoke and low visibility, where they found the family.

The flat door was opened and Mr Williams yelled “casualty” as he was presented with the child.

Grenfell Tower Inquiry
Photograph taken by firefighter Brett Loft at the scene of the blaze (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

“The woman may have been inside the flat, she may have been in the lobby area, I could not see her. Firefighter Williams shouted at me telling me to secure the exit.”

He ran to the lobby door and helped direct Mr Williams, who was now “carrying a small child”, down the stairs.

“I know know this to be a small girl approximately six years old with dark hair,” the statement said.

“I realised that it was imperative that we got the child down the stairs as quickly as possible due to the amount of smoke in the building.”

Mr Fernandes recalled being passed the child, who initially thrashed around in his arms as they rushed down the stairs with dwindling oxygen supplies.

He could hear screams for help coming from every floor, but could do nothing to answer them.

“As we descended the child stopped screaming and was no longer throwing her arms and legs around, she became unresponsive in my arm,” his statement continued.

“I was unable to give first aid to the child as I could not stop on the stairs due to the smoke, I was in BA gear and therefore unable to deliver any rescue breaths to the girl.

“The only thing I could do is descend as quickly as possible.”

Finally, they reached clean air – but now Mr Fernandes could see the child was “unconscious and frothing from the mouth”.

She was taken away for medical attention.

Reflecting on the rescue, his statement said: “The whole experience was very bizarre. Generally I am fine, however the incident with the child troubled me for days after the event.

“I was relieved to find out that the child survived. I have seen her name written in a news report, I cannot remember it but I am pleased she survived.

“I was told that the child had asked for Firefighter Williams and myself to attend her seventh birthday, I believe her family did not survive. The (London Fire Brigade) refused on my behalf.

“I assume that is policy and I fully accept that, however I would have liked an update regarding her welfare as it may have helped me.”

On Monday, counsel to the inquiry Andrew Kinnier QC attempted to draw out further detail about the rescue effort – and why four residents were left to their death.

The firefighter told the hearing at Holborn Bars it was “absolutely impossible” that he could have given his breathing equipment to the remaining family members.

“The smoke was thick black, acrid smoke, so strong that you could actually taste the smoke as your (breathing apparatus) kit moved with sweat – you could taste what I can only describe as burning rubber, burning tyres, coming through in your sweat.”

For this reason, he agreed an evacuation would have been impractical and his “focus” was solely on the child.

“I was very aware the child was exposed to this irrespirable atmosphere and time was of the essence,” he said.

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