Gren­fell fire­man: ‘I’m no hero’

One year on from the deadly in­ferno that tore through Gren­fell Tower, fire­fighter Aldo Diana, 55, from Eden­bridge, Kent, re­veals the ter­ri­fy­ing scenes he faced within the burn­ing build­ing as he res­cued res­i­dents

Reveal - - CONTENTS -

In the early hours of June 14 2017, a dev­as­tat­ing in­ferno en­gulfed Gren­fell Tower in North Kens­ing­ton, west Lon­don. More than 200 fire­fight­ers and 40 fire engines re­sponded – Aldo Diana was one of them. Now, one year on from the deadly blaze that trag­i­cally claimed 72 lives and shocked an en­tire na­tion, he tells us about the job he was tasked with that fate­ful night.

‘I was in dis­be­lief,’ says Aldo. ‘I’ve never seen a fire en­gulf a build­ing like that in my 26 years in service.’

It was about 2am when Aldo, along with three other crew mem­bers from Bat­tersea Fire Sta­tion, ar­rived at Gren­fell to sup­port the crews al­ready there. The first 999 calls were re­ceived at 12.54am, so it was al­most an hour later.

Lis­ten­ing to the messages about the in­ci­dent on the radio en route, Aldo de­cided his crew would need their breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus and in­structed them to be pre­pared.

Fire­fight­ers al­ways work in pairs, and Aldo and his col­league climbed the stairs through the thick blan­ket of smoke, un­able to see the de­bris un­der­foot and with a heavy cas­cade of wa­ter com­ing down from above. They were climb­ing to one of the top floors in the 24-storey tower, pass­ing other crews in the stair­well who were help­ing res­i­dents des­per­ately try­ing to es­cape.

In to­tal, Lon­don Fire Bri­gade crews res­cued 65 res­i­dents from the build­ing, risk­ing their own lives to save others.

‘My col­league and I res­cued nine peo­ple that night,’ says Aldo. ‘Our first res­cue was a ca­su­alty who had col­lapsed on one of the lower floors. We went back in again sev­eral times and es­corted out an­other six peo­ple. As far as I’m aware, ev­ery­one brought out that night sur­vived ex­cept for one.’

As Aldo and his col­league fought through the flames, they stum­bled over the bod­ies of res­i­dents who had col­lapsed in the smoke-filled stair­well dur­ing their des­per­ate bids to es­cape.

‘It wasn’t un­til we went up for a sixth time, when we were half way up the build­ing, that we heard this cough,’ ex­plains Aldo. ‘I don’t know if we stepped on this person and that’s why they made a noise but, as we knelt down on the stair­well, we felt a body. Then as we were feel­ing around, we re­alised there were in fact two peo­ple there.’

Aldo, along with his col­league, made the de­ci­sion to carry them both out in the hope that if one was cough­ing and alive, there was a chance the other may be as well.

‘By this point, my legs were feel­ing tired and car­ry­ing breath­ing ap­pa­ra­tus is ex­haust­ing in those con­di­tions, but we man­aged to carry two more res­i­dents to safety,’ says Aldo. ‘It was very hard, down many flights of stairs, in the dark, and we were al­most out of oxy­gen. When we got them out, they were still un­con­scious from smoke in­hala­tion. They would’ve died but, luck­ily, we were in the right place at the right time. They both sur­vived.’

The fire crew man­ager, who was only four months away from re­tire­ment, braved thick smoke and ex­cru­ci­at­ing tem­per­a­tures to scour the tower block again and again for an ex­haust­ing 10 hours.

‘At 54, I was no spring chicken,’ says Aldo. ‘To go up and down the stairs six times, car­ry­ing two cylin­ders weigh­ing 23kg on my back and wear­ing full fire gear, hel­met, boots and gloves that are soak­ing wet was an ar­du­ous task, but we were given a job to do and that was to save lives.’

De­spite car­ry­ing one sur­vivor down 13 floors, Aldo mod­estly insists he isn’t a hero.

‘I’d never class my­self as a hero,’ says Aldo. ‘I was only do­ing the job I was asked and signed up to do. I did it to the best of my abil­ity. I be­lieve

I did a good job that day.’

While hun­dreds of trau­ma­tised fire­fight­ers re­ceived coun­selling in the wake of the Gren­fell Tower tragedy, Aldo re­fused the of­fer.

‘As soon as we fin­ished, we were taken to an­other sta­tion and asked if we wanted coun­selling,’ ex­plains Aldo. ‘I haven’t needed it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t care.

I care greatly for the peo­ple of Gren­fell, those who have lost loved ones and for the fire­fight­ers who are suf­fer­ing. When­ever

I need to talk about my ex­pe­ri­ence, my wife, Daisy, lis­tens, un­der­stands and we have a chat about it.

‘I know, in my own mind, that I did the best I could’ve that night,’ he adds.

In the months that fol­lowed, Aldo and his col­leagues had to drive past Gren­fell to get to other jobs.

‘See­ing the build­ing is a re­minder of the true hor­ror of the fire,’ says Aldo. ‘It’s very sur­real. I of­ten think, “Did that really hap­pen?”’

Now, one year on, the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the fire may not be fin­ished un­til at least 2019, leav­ing sur­vivors, their fam­i­lies, friends and the wider com­mu­nity still fight­ing for justice.

But for Aldo, he knows that he and his crew did ev­ery­thing they could have that night.

‘We’re re­garded as the best fire bri­gade in the world,’ says Aldo. ‘Our train­ing and pro­fes­sion­al­ism is sec­ond to none. We did a good job that night putting our lives at risk to save others. It’s what we do’.

Chloe Mor­gan

‘I know that I did the best I could’ve that night’

Aldo Diana res­cued nine peo­ple from Gren­fell Tower

The fire claimed 72 lives Fire crews scaled the 24-storey build­ing search­ing for sur­vivors

The emergency ser­vices did an amaz­ing job, yet many are still haunted by that night

Daisy has been Aldo’s rock

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