Fire chief abandoned Grenfell stay put advice ten minutes after hearing pleas

Joanne Smith was the on-call manager on the night of the Grenfell fire  A fire control room manager on the night of the Grenfell Tower blaze ordered “stay put” advice to be abandoned after just ten minutes of hearing frantic phone calls from residents, an inquiry heard.Joanne Smith said that soon after reporting for duty she became “increasingly uncomfortable” that residents were being told over the phone to stay in their homes. The  senior operations manager for the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said that her years of experience and the nature and length of the calls from residents were behind the “quick-time” decision to tell everyone to get out. But by the time she arrived at 2.15am the controversial advice, which some families have blamed for the death of their loved ones, had already “substantially failed”. Experts have said that the guidance failed by 1.26am when flames reached the top of the building and the stairwells filled with smoke. In a written statement to the public inquiry into the blaze, Ms Smith said: “I had arrived at Stratford at approximately 2.15am – within 10 to 15 minutes the decision was made to change policy and that decision was mine.” By the time Joanne Smith arrived for duty the ‘stay-put’ advice had already failed Credit:AFP On normal Fire Survival Guidance calls the firefighters have made contact with those trapped within ten minutes, she told the hearing, but some of the residents had been on the line for 45 minutes. Ms Smith was asked who, in practice, would normally be responsible for making the decision to alter advice to caller and said that, to her knowledge, the night of Grenfell was the first time such a decision had been made.It was a decision taken by her, in the control room, and agreed with those in charge on the ground, she said.She added: “The decision was made owing to a variety of factors – the duration of calls, the content of the calls and the resources available.”These factors and my years of experience formed the basis of my rationale and coincided with the recommendations following the Lakanal fire in 2009 in which certain questions were asked by the CROs (control room operators) regarding smoke and fire levels. “The information that was fed back by the CROs from residents and the conditions they were in led me to believe that they had no way of waiting to be rescued.”Once the decision was made, the new advice was passed to fire personnel on the ground and residents on emergency calls. Joanne Smith was the on-call manager on the night of the Grenfell fire  Residents were advised to ‘get out, hold hands and get wet towels to put around themselves’, and control room operators were told they may need to adopt more “forceful and blunt language” to emphasise the necessity of evacuation.Phone operator BT was also made aware of the change so it could advise residents what to do.Ms Smith said from 2.30am until 4am the influx of calls was “utterly relentless”, adding: “There were tears. Lots and lots of tears.”Looking around, I can only describe the staff as looking broken.” Ms Smith, who was on call manager on the night, was paged at 1.15am and as she was on phone to the Control Room, which was temporarily based in Stratford because of maintenance work in their usual office in Merton, she heard it was developing rapidly and told colleagues she was on her way.  Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. By the time Joanne Smith arrived for duty the 'stay-put' advice had already failed  She said they were “incredibly worried” the building could collapse, and made a “collective decision” not to watch any coverage of the fire on television.She said: “This was a conscious decision to remain objective to the job in hand.”The last thing we wanted to do was to cause panic or distress to the staff members who were still talking to residents inside the flats whilst the building burned.”A total of 344 calls relating to the Grenfell Tower fire were received by control room operators, a log seen by the inquiry showed. The inquiry was adjourned until Thursday, when Ms Smith will continue  with her evidence.

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