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Fire officer told father to turn back to find his children during Grenfell fire

Seventy-two people died as a result of the Grenfell fire on June 14 last year
By Jemma Crew, Press Association

A fire officer recalled advising a father trying to escape Grenfell Tower with his family to turn back to find his children in the smoke-logged stairwell, despite fearing he would not survive.

Jason Oliff, station manager at Chiswick and Feltham north west area, told of the heartbreaking moment he believed advice to evacuate the high-rise had cost the lives of an entire family.

Marcio Gomes, his heavily-pregnant wife Andreia and their two young girls made the desperate escape bid from the 21st floor where they lived, along with their neighbour and her young daughter.

Mr Oliff, responsible for relaying information from 999 calls made by trapped residents from the control room to the incident ground to aid rescue efforts, recalled being called over by a phone operator.

She was on the phone to Mr Gomes, and had advised him to leave the flat, believing firefighters would be nearby to guide the family to safety.

However, she soon realised the family would have to make their smoke-logged descent alone.

Mr Gomes stayed on the phone, first saying he had lost his wife in the confusion, and later becoming separated from his children.

In a written statement to the public inquiry into the blaze, Mr Oliff said: "The operator could hear the male calling out for his children, he was now in extreme distress.

"The operator was also understandably distressed, she informed me that the male didn't know what to do and again asked me 'What do I tell him?'.

"This was an impossible decision to make, there was no right or wrong answer I could give and I did not give this advice easily.

"I told the operator 'tell him to go back and get his daughters'.

"I knew in saying this that the male probably wouldn't survive but my thinking was that, if it was me, I wouldn't want to get out of that tower without my family and live with that for the rest of my life."

The control operator later said she could hear the man talking to someone and believed he had found the children.

A short while after she thought she could hear an unconscious male breathing.

Mr Oliff said a few months later he learned the family had survived after being aided by firefighters, but that the unborn baby had died.

Baby Logan was the youngest of 72 people who died as a result of the blaze on June 14 last year.

His father, Mr Gomes, was present in the main hearing room for Monday afternoon's session.

The fire officer also recalled how a lack of television footage in the control room had made it "difficult for us to know and picture what was going on at the incident itself".

Mr Oliff said when he arrived at the Stratford control room the television was off and he was told it was broken.

The inquiry previously heard from senior operations manager Joanne Smith, who said a collective decision was made to keep the television off so as not to further distress control room staff.

Mr Oliff said he believed television coverage was an "invaluable tool in decision making" and would have helped senior management to "make an assessment to change stay-put policy".

LFB policy guidance states that a person is usually safest to remain in their flat, unless affected by smoke, heat or fire.

Residents were told to remain in their flats for almost two hours as fire engulfed the building, advice which is feared to have been fatal.

The advice is estimated to have been officially changed between 2.30 and 2.47am.

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