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Grenfell Inquiry: Nothing could stop fire spread, says chief

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Long term plans for the site of Grenfell Tower have yet to be finalised

Nothing could have stopped the spread of the fire at Grenfell Tower, the head of the London Fire Brigade has said.

Dany Cotton told the inquiry into the fire that even specific training in dealing with blazes involving cladding wouldn’t have helped the firefighters.

The commissioner has also revealed she tried to comfort her crew as they entered the building, fearing some would not come back alive.

The fire in west London on 14 June last year led to the deaths of 72 residents.

Ms Cotton told the inquiry in central London: “I truly don’t think it would have benefited anyone to have more detailed knowledge about cladding to respond to the fire at Grenfell because it wouldn’t have enabled them to extinguish the fire.”

She said she had never received any training on the spread of fire on cladding, but said the fire would have been deemed an “unrealistic scenario”.

Ms Cotton, who was appointed in January 2017, said: “I wouldn’t develop a training package for a space shuttle to land in front of the Shard.

“We would respond to it and deal with it in the same manner we do an incident of that scale.

“I wouldn’t expect us to be developing training or a response to something that simply shouldn’t happen.”

But she said steps had been taken since, with full evacuation plans made and local authorities removing cladding.

She added: “We can no longer think that another fire like Grenfell Tower wouldn’t happen, because we’ve seen it happen, and now we have to be able to deal with it.”

When shown a document which details what local crews should do when inspecting high-rise buildings, Ms Cotton said firefighters do not have the “technical knowledge or ability” to carry out some of the required checks.

Ms Cotton also agreed that the lack of floor plans for Grenfell Tower on the Operational Risk Database was “woefully inadequate”.

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Media captionDany Cotton says she wanted firefighters to know she was there for them as they went into the tower

Ms Cotton described how she first saw the blaze through her car windscreen as she arrived at Grenfell Tower at 02:49 BST.

In a witness statement the commissioner described what she was thinking when she arrived.

“It just looked like something from a disaster movie. Like a hideous mixture of ‘Towering Inferno’ and a video I was shown in training school of a high rise fire in Sao Paulo where people jumped to escape.”

Firefighters ‘terrified’

The commissioner also revealed that she had wanted crews to know someone cared as they went into the tower.

She said: “I recall I actually physically went and touched some firefighters when I spoke to them, because I was not 100% convinced in my mind that everybody was going to come out of there alive.

“I wanted those firefighters to have a positive reinforced memory before they went into the building of somebody saying nice things to them, being supportive and demonstrating to them that somebody really cared.”

She said she was hit by an “overwhelming anxiety” about committing firefighters to the blaze when she could not guarantee their safety.

Ms Cotton added: “People will quite rightly have questions, but for me I could not be more proud of the absolute commitment and dedication of the firefighters.

“They were clearly terrified of going into Grenfell Tower.”

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Ms Cotton said she had memory blanks from the night because of the “traumatic nature and sheer scale” of the incident.

She said she had undergone counselling after the fire to help improve her memory, but it had not been “terribly successful”.

She also told the inquiry how she had blocked out a memory where a 6ft piece of debris almost hit her and could have killed her.

“I’m still finding it very difficult to look at visual images and have conversations about Grenfell,” Ms Cotton added.

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