Grenfell Tower firefighter: I don't know how long it will take to get over the tragedy

8 February 2018, 01:57

The first firefighters to arrive at the scene of the Grenfell Tower fire say they doubt they will ever get over what they experienced.

Speaking for the first time since the blaze that killed 71 people, firefighters from North Kensington station described how they knew they were dealing with a fire of different magnitude by how quickly it spread.

Justin O'Berne, a firefighter with almost 20 years experience, was in the first crew to attend.

"We didn't realise it instantly as we were the first trucks there," the 46-year-old said.

"But it was just the speed of it. The quantity of people involved, the number of firefighters there. I've never ever experienced anything like it before. It was shocking."

"I've witnessed a lot of things through my career and many things have had an impact on me but nothing on this scale. There are multiple incidents that will live with me and I don't know how long it will take to get over them."

Mr O'Berne is one of nine firefighters from North Kensington station who are running the London Marathon to raise money for children affected by the fire.

All the funds will go to volunteer organisation Kids on the Green, which provides activities, outings and therapy for children in the community who have been traumatised.

He said: "I've been going to counselling for some time now. Our chief fire officer has openly spoken about counselling and the charity we're running for provides counselling for the children that have been affected by the fire."

Hundreds of firefighters risked their lives tackling the Grenfell fire, which was described as unprecedented in scale.

In the weeks and months since the tragedy, firefighters from North Kensington station have grieved with and supported the survivors and community which they say they want to help heal and rebuild.

Michael Kirkpatrick, 22, had only been a firefighter for six months when the Grenfell Tower fire broke out. He wasn't on shift but rushed to the scene to try to help.

He said: "I was asleep at the time, and my mum called me up and said 'are you at this fire?'

"I thought, I've missed another fire, and then I looked at my phone and thought 'oh my God'.

"So I came down to the fire station - I went to the tower and tried to offer my help, but there were so many people they were sending people away. I'd only been a firefighter for a six months by then, I was trying to find my feet.

"The fire hasn't changed me but it does make you think 'what if?' when you go to fires, especially those in tower blocks."

Michael is also running the London Marathon in April. He said: "We want to put back into the community to give these kids and families a chance to recover like we have been recovering."

Kids on the Green spokesman Will Wiles said the organisation was "overflowing with gratitude" for the firefighters' support.

He said: "For us at Kids on the Green it is a powerful demonstration of solidarity that those who suffered from the fire and those who fought the fire, at great personal cost, are now closer than ever and working together to rebuild our community."

For more information about the firefighters' charity fund, click here