Grenfell inquiry: 12-year-old victim pleaded for fire crews to hurry

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Jessica Urbano RamirezImage source, Metropolitan Police
Image caption,
Jessica Urbano Ramirez was described as 'loving, kind-hearted and caring'

A 12-year-old girl who died in the Grenfell Tower blaze begged firefighters to hurry up in a 999 call and was told they were on their way.

The inquiry into the fire, which killed 72 people in June 2017, heard Jessica Urbano Ramirez had left her flat on the 20th floor.

She went up three more floors in the 24-storey block in west London.

Jessica repeatedly asked London Fire Brigade control room officer Sarah Russell: "Please can you hurry up?"

The schoolgirl, who had sought refuge with a group of people on the top floor of the tower, told the officer she could see smoke and flames and that she couldn't breathe.

The call lasted nearly an hour, until Ms Russell ended the call when the line went silent.

Ms Russell had been in the job for about nine months at the time of the fire.

She told the central London inquiry she had only had one day of training into dealing with fire survival guidance calls, which had been around the time she started the job.

She said she would have liked to have had more experience in calls like that and that it would have been helpful to have a more experienced control room officer sitting next to her.

The inquiry heard that the information about Jessica fleeing to a higher floor was not passed on to fire crews on the ground, who searched her flat but found no trace of her.

Image source, AFP/Getty

A transcript of the phonecall, running to about 70 pages, shows that Ms Russell told Jessica: "They are hurrying up. Is there another room you can go into?"

Jessica replied: "No, can you hurry up please? I'm begging you."

Ms Russell replied: "They are, they're right below you. But you need to keep yourself safe."

Jessica was also told to stay close to the floor and to cover her mouth, telling Ms Russell she was pressing her face into a pillow.

The officer told the inquiry she had no information that firefighters were on their way, but she said her comments were to reassure the girl.

'I felt helpless'

Richard Millett QC, counsel to the inquiry, asked: "Did it occur to you that you had not yet assessed the security of the escape route and telling her that the crews were coming up, without having solid information to back that up, meant that you might be lulling her into a false sense of security?"

Ms Russell replied: "At the time, no. It was based on what I would expect to happen, what should happen.

"It was more about comforting her and trying to get her through that situation and get the information (from her)."

In her written statement, she said she did not get any further response after about an hour. She said she was glad to have stayed on the line, "even if it was only to offer her a little support".

Image source, Getty Images

"I stayed on the line a little while longer with my hand hovered over the call termination button," she said.

"I was torn as what best to do. I eventually ended the call when the line fell silent. "Reflecting on that call, I felt completely helpless.

"When people are pleading with you, saying they do not want to die and I cannot physically do anything to help them; it is very hard."

Ms Russell said not long after the call ended, she became aware that the advice to Grenfell Tower residents had been changed from "stay-put" to attempt to evacuate the building.

But a transcript of another call showed she was still offering a "choice" following the change of advice, the inquiry heard.

"I was making them aware that they needed to leave and how, but if you send them out into the fire and smoke it could potentially be sending them out to a death where if they waited they may have been rescued," Ms Russell said.

The inquiry previously heard that firefighter David Badillo had made it his "personal rescue mission" to save Jessica, but he had not been told she had moved to the top floor. He entered the flat where she lived but when he and his colleagues found no-one was there and the door was ajar, he decided she had got out.

He did not know she had been on the phone to Ms Russell at the time.