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
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’.
‘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