‘I was a firefighter at Grenfell and what I saw that night will never fade from my mind’

Firefighter Jon Wharnsby said some of the memories from the Grenfell Tower fire will never fade (Image: Matthew Young)

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A firefighter who witnessed the Grenfell Tower fire has spoken out four years after the tragedy killed 72 people.

Jon Wharnsby, Grenfell Community Liaison at the Fire Brigades Union, was at the scene of the blaze and said he cannot forget the "fear and grief" he saw on the faces of the residents.

In the early hours of June 14, 2017, a fire broke out in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat at the tower block on Latimer Road, in North Kensington, West London.

Within minutes, the fire reached the exterior of the 24-storey building and then spread to all four sides.

By 3am, most of the upper floors were alight as over 250 firefighters attempted to control the blaze.

The Grenfell Tower fire happened four years ago
(Image: PA)

Grenfell Tower was covered in flammable cladding and, four years after the tragedy, several buildings around the country are still covered with the dangerous material – in what has been dubbed the "cladding scandal".

Thinking about his intervention on the night of the fire, Mr Wharnsby said some of the memories "will never fade or evaporate".

He said: "I was there as a firefighter on the night, along with hundreds of my colleagues.

"Some of my memories of the night have faded with time. But some are etched in stone. They will never fade or evaporate.

"The faces of residents torn with fear and grief, the exhausted faces of my colleagues. Those memories will never diminish."

Firefighters gathered near the tower block in Latimer Road, West London
(Image: Getty Images)

The firefighter, from East London, praised the bravery of his colleagues who attempted to tackle the blaze to save people, but sadly 72 residents lost their lives that night.

Mr Wharnsby, 41, spoke of his admiration for the firefighters who entered the tower block despite being aware of the risk it could collapse.

But he also said they soon understood how dangerous the building was due to the material it was covered in.

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He explained: "My admiration for my colleagues has only grown since the fateful night, as we learn just how dangerous this building was. We have learnt of scores of building safety failures.

"But this building wasn’t dangerous because of bad luck.

"Decades of safety risk-taking by people who were meant to protect residents played out in one tragic fire. The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has shown that."

A fire broke out in the tower block on June 14, 2017

He added: "I remember an entire block engulfed in flame and smoke. When I remember that, I now see each and every failure played out in the charred, burning building.

"Flammable cladding played its part, as did a failing smoke removal system, failing door closers and much more. Everywhere we look, building failures caused what we saw and experienced that night."

The cladding scandal has continued despite the Grenfell tragedy and last month a block in East London, which is owned by Ballymore, caught fire leaving 44 people in need of treatment.

The Grenfell Tower fire seen from a distance
(Image: PA)

Flames spread across three floors of the 18-storey New Providence Wharf, leading to renewed calls about fire safety issues in residential buildings.

Natasha Elcock, 44, who lived on the 11th floor at Grenfell, in West London, said: “It’s infuriating and horrifying that dangerous materials have yet to be removed.

"I do not want more people to go through the nightmare that Grenfell survivors and bereaved have.

"The Government is playing Russian roulette with thousands of innocent people’s lives. It’s time to deal with this crisis once and for all, enough is enough.”

A fire at New Providence Wharf last month led to further calls about building safety issues
(Image: Athina Fokidou / Twitter)

Hundreds of thousands of people are still trapped in unsafe tower blocks, covered in flammable cladding just like Grenfell Tower.

After the latest fire, protests have taken place across the UK as residents call for the government to take action and for developers to remove dangerous materials to prevent further tragedies.

Mr Wharnsby said residents have been failed by the government as they are not able to sell, face large bills and live in fear.

He said ministers should make developers pay to solve the issues to avoid further tragedies.

The firefighter said: "It’s ordinary people, and firefighters that go to save them, who’ll be at risk if there is another Grenfell. The fat cat developers who made this mess won’t be.

"Each person will mark today in their own way. But the day belongs to the bereaved, survivors and residents of Grenfell.

"I and the Fire Brigades Union stand with that community in their fight for justice, and their fight to prevent another tragedy like this."

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