Leading firefighter hits out at loss of mental healthcare as tower horror stories mount
A FIREFIGHTER has demanded more protection for the mental health of crews after colleagues who were sent in to tackle the devastating Grenfell Tower fire were faced with “dozens” of dead and screaming children.
The harrowing experiences of those who entered the inferno that broke out last Wednesday were revealed by Fire Brigade Union (FBU) London regional official and Chelsea brigade firefighter Lucy Masoud.
Fire services have been “savaged” by cuts with fire inspectors being the first to get the axe, and 17 full-time counsellors for the fire service have been replaced with just four part-timers to take care of thousands of firefighters and staff, she said.
One firefighter was faced with having to choose between saving a mother and daughter or a family trapped on another floor, she told the Star, adding that “we should not have to make that choice. I’m hugely concerned about the mental welfare of my colleagues. They’re heartbroken, we’re talking about some firefighters with 25 years or more experience.
“We are used to dealing with deaths on a daily basis but we have seen nothing on the scale like at Grenfell.
“Many heard screaming children and others will have the image of dozens of dead children. I can honestly say I don’t know how they’re going to cope.
“Control room staff would have had absolutely the most horrific time.
“They had to deal first hand with all the calls from the victims and we know that many perished while on the phone to staff.
“You cannot predict what the long-term mental health effects of these experiences will be. What’s important is that they need proper counselling and mental health support.”
The fire was sparked by a faulty fridge-freezer just after 1am and combustible cladding on the building helped it spread at an alarming rate over 24 floors of the council housing block, Scotland Yard revealed yesterday. Locals reported hearing screams and shouts for help while the blaze went on for more than 24 hours.
The official death toll stands at 79 but hundreds more “missing” people are feared dead and survivors have been displaced. Many fatalities could have been avoided with more firefighters and equipment, said Ms Masoud, who was off duty that night.
She continued: “I don’t want to politicise this tragic event but the fact remains that over the last three years Kensington and Chelsea has had half of its fire service cut.”
Ten fire stations, 27 fire engines and 600 firefighters have been cut across London alone in the last three years.
Of these, two stations at Knightsbridge and Westminster, which could have responded to the Grenfell incident, have closed.
Firefighters who were called out to Grenfell have been asked not to speak to the press as it might interfere with investigations.
Ms Masoud along with other firefighters have been at the scene all week helping with the clean-up operation.
There was no mention of addressing the cuts to the fire service or helping firefighters after tackling major fires in the Queen’s Speech this week.
The Metropolitan Police also announced yesterday that it would be considering manslaughter charges related to the fire at Grenfell, looking in particular at whether the use of flammable cladding was illegal.
In a response statement the Radical Housing Network said: “Today’s initial verdict is beyond damning. It is also an indictment of a broken housing model — one where council housing is systematically run down and tenants are treated with contempt.
“From the council’s estate management organisation failing to respond to repeated resident complaints, to the reported delaying of a fire safety review by government ministers, it’s clear that a culture of negligence existed at all levels.