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Grenfell Inquiry: Fears fire crews would not survive, says chief

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The head of the London Fire Brigade says she tried to comfort her crew as they entered Grenfell Tower, fearing some would not come back alive. In a written statement, Commissioner Dany Cotton told the inquiry into the fire she wanted the firefighters to know that "somebody really cared". She said the tower "looked like something from a disaster movie" and that she could not believe her eyes. The fire in west London on 14 June last year led to the deaths of 72 residents.
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Grenfell Tower was 'unsafe to live in'
Ms Cotton - who became the first female commissioner of the LFB when she was appointed in January 2017 - told the inquiry: "I recall I actually physically went and touched some firefighters when I spoke to them, because I was not 100% convinced in my mind that everybody was going to come out of there alive.
"I wanted those firefighters to have a positive reinforced memory before they went into the building of somebody saying nice things to them, being supportive and demonstrating to them that somebody really cared."The inquiry in central London was filled with survivors and loved ones of those who died in the blaze, as well as local community members. Ms Cotton told them: "People will quite rightly have questions, but for me I could not be more proud of the absolute commitment and dedication of the firefighters."They were clearly terrified of going into Grenfell Tower."
Commissioner Dany Cotton gave evidence to the Grenfell Inquiry on Thursday
Ms Cotton had described in a written statement how she first saw the blaze through her car windscreen as she arrived at Grenfell Tower at 02:49 BST.She was on the phone to the LFB's director of operations, telling him: "This can't actually be happening; I can't believe what I'm seeing.'"Ms Cotton added: "It just looked like something from a disaster movie. Like a hideous mixture of Towering Inferno and a video I was shown in training school of a high-rise fire in Sao Paulo where people jumped to escape."I think I said that in as many words to [the director] and he just said 'I won't keep you, you need to go, I'll speak to you later.'"So my first words about Grenfell Tower were down the phone to him, and most of them, consisted of the F-word."
'The right to life'
Ms Cotton said she was hit by an "overwhelming anxiety" about committing firefighters to the blaze when she could not guarantee their safety. "The imperative was to save human life," she said. "The right to life is a basic function of human rights and we were servicing that human right."However, for the first time ever, I had an overwhelming continuous feeling of anxiety, of responsibility in committing firefighters into a building where I could not guarantee their safety."I've never felt that way before, and I have been in charge at hundreds of large scale operational incidents."She said it was a "huge responsibility" knowing how many people were in the building and that the fire service was going to keep "committing and committing".
Long term plans for the site of Grenfell Tower have yet to be finalised
Ms Cotton said she had memory blanks from the night because of the "traumatic nature and sheer scale" of the incident.She said she had undergone counselling after the fire to help improve her memory, but it had not been "terribly successful".She also told the inquiry how she had blocked out a memory where a 6ft piece of debris almost hit her and could have killed her. Ms Cotton said giving her statement to police in February 2018 had been the first time she had talked through the whole incident. She added: "I'm still finding it very difficult to look at visual images and have conversations about Grenfell."I'm still responsible for effectively running the London Fire Brigade, and everything else that's involved in that. "It would be no good for me to fall apart."
'Simply shouldn't happen'
Speaking at the inquiry on Thursday, Ms Cotton said she had never received any training on the spread of fire on cladding, but said the fire would have been deemed an "unrealistic scenario". She said: "I wouldn't develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard."We would respond to it and deal with it in the same manner we do an incident of that scale."I wouldn't expect us to be developing training or a response to something that simply shouldn't happen."But she said steps had been taken since, with full evacuation plans made and local authorities removing cladding. She added: "We can no longer think that another fire like Grenfell Tower wouldn't happen, because we've seen it happen, and now we have to be able to deal with it."
London
London Fire Brigade
Grenfell Tower Inquiry
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