999 operator describes harrowing call with Grenfell victim

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A 999 operator has described a harrowing, 40-minute phone call with a Grenfell Tower victim, who gradually succumbed to smoke on the top floor.

Aisha Jabin, a control room operator for the Warrington-based North West Fire Control, started taking calls from the block when the fire brigade’s London base was overwhelmed by demand.

She took a phone call from a woman called Debbie, believed to be victim Deborah Lamprell, who had sought shelter in a 23rd floor flat with several panicked residents.

Her body was recovered along with six others from Flat 201.

Grenfell Tower victims
(PA Graphics)

The resident of the 16th floor was “immediately screaming down the phone that she could not get out” and said she was one of 11 people barricaded into the 23rd floor flat.

By this point, 40 fire engines had been called to tackle the escalating inferno – but residents were still being told to remain inside.

“She told me that they had barricaded themselves in as much as they could but she was completely distraught,” the statement said.

“She told me that there was not much smoke in the flat but that it was starting to get hot.

“I told her the usual guidance – get down low and as they had already barricaded themselves in I just tried to reassure her as much as I could.”

A “commotion” was audible in the background and Ms Lamprell said she was struggling to convince people to remain close to the ground.

It became clear to Ms Jabin that the residents were in peril when she heard a “loud crack” as the flat’s windows shattered.

Her “heart sank” as she realised firefighters were currently carrying out rescues on the third floor – 20 levels below where Ms Lamprell was awaiting help.

Ms Jabin told the resident to try to get everyone to flee, but the group now could not get past the barricade.

Then the operator heard the sound of a baby crying – and realised two children were also trapped.

“For a moment I froze, I was not sure what to do,” the statement said.

“I am a mother and the thought of children being trapped and not able to breathe really affected me.

“I carried on talking to her, continued to try to reassure her, but Debbie said that the mother of the children had not been telling the children to keep low and therefore the children were suffering from smoke inhalation.”

Ms Lamprell too started to exhibit signs of smoke inhalation, coughing and telling the operator: “I can’t do this any more.”

“She managed to say, ‘It’s too hot, it’s too smoky’,” the statement said. “I kept calling her by her name and tried to reassure her.

“The call went from being really manic at the start and throughout most of it and then really, really quiet.

“Eventually all I could hear was heavy breathing and what sounded like moaning.

“Eventually Debbie stopped responding completely and I had lost her.”

Ms Jabin was advised to disconnect the line because there “nothing more” she could do.

They had been on the phone for 40 minutes, according to a London Fire Brigade log.

After hanging up, the operator saw images of the burning on TV and realised how severely the fire had spread.

“On reflection I am glad I had not seen it before because I am not sure I could have functioned properly.

“It would have been very difficult to detach myself from what was happening,” she wrote.

Ms Jabin left at 7am, having taken three calls relating to Grenfell Tower.

“As I drove home I could hear Debbie’s voice in my head and I cried a lot,” her statement said.

“The radio in my car kept talking about it so I turned it off. I did not want to hear about it all.

“At that point I do not think the enormity of what had happened had sunk in.

“I still hoped she was OK.

“Her voice just kept repeating in my head, going round and round. As the conditions for her got worse she became more and more distressed.

“Thinking about that and hearing the baby in the background made it very, very tough and upsetting.”

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