As always we were woken with a start: the lights came on and the automated Tannoy voice started shouting our call signs. Getting dressed I looked at the clock. I had lain down less than an hour ago. I headed down the pole to the trucks and was handed the call slip “Make pumps plenty”. What? That’s a big incident.
Approaching the tower we could see that this was a bad one. The sky was glowing and parts of the building were already starting to fall down. We received our brief: 23rd floor, people stuck in their flat. Go!
Weighed down carrying 30kg-plus of equipment, not including our fire kit and breathing apparatus (BA), we made our way up a crowded stairwell, struggling to make progress.
Around the ninth floor we lost all visibility and the heat was rising. Still we continued up and up through the blackness. We reached what we believed to be the 19th or 20th floor but there was no way to tell. It was here where we found a couple trying to find their way out, panicking, choking, blinded by the thick toxic air.
A quick gauge check showed us that the amount of floors we’d climbed had taken its toll; we were getting low on air. There was no way we could make it to the 23rd floor and back to the bridgehead.
The couple were shouting and screaming to us between choking coughs, trying to tell us there were five more people on the floor above.
I had horrible decisions to make and a very short amount of time to make them.
We had stopped and lost our rhythm on the stairs; would we have enough air to leave this couple and to reach the next floor?