Gibraltarian hero in dramatic rescue from 21st floor of Grenfell Tower inferno

Gibraltarian hero in dramatic rescue from 21st floor of Grenfell Tower inferno

One of the first rescuers to race into the Grenfell Tower inferno this week was a Gibraltarian third-generation firefighter who helped save a woman from a flat on the 21st floor.
Russell Gonzalez, 31, was part of a four-man search and rescue team wearing breathing apparatus and tasked with dashing to the top floors in a bid to save people trapped there.
With fire and smoke sweeping through the building, the team faced extreme heat and arduous conditions as they climbed floor after floor until they came across the woman.
Against all the odds, they managed to carry her down alive to safety from the upper levels of the 24-storey block.
Outside, they rested for an hour before racing back into the burning building.
As this edition went to press, the woman they saved was the highest known rescue of the night.
This act of incredible bravery was recounted yesterday by Russell’s father Albert Gonzalez, himself a retired firefighter who served for 30 years in the London Fire Brigade and whose own father, the late Adolfo ‘Popo’ Gonzalez, served with the City Fire Brigade in Gibraltar.
russell gonzalez
His voice laced with emotion, Albert told how he had switched on the television on Wednesday morning to see Grenfell Tower covered in flames and billowing smoke.
This was a building he knew well, having been stationed in the area for several years.
“I knew this building like the back of my hand,” he said.
His initial thoughts were professional as he digested the dramatic images of the blaze.
But he immediately realised too that his son, who was based in Paddington Fire Station, would have been despatched to the fire.
Russell was trained in the use of extended duration breathing apparatus, which allows firefighters to stay inside burning buildings for longer.
He would have been tasked with searching the top floors of the building, one of the most dangerous jobs that night.
As Albert viewed the images of Grenfell Tower on the morning news, he feared the worst for his son.
“When I saw those images, I thought to myself: ‘If he’s in there, he’s dead’,” he said, his voice trembling with emotion.
“I have never in my 30 years as a fire fighter seen a fire like that.”
The next hour was a painful wait as Albert used social media and the network of retired firefighters to make contact with active colleagues.
He was finally able to establish that all rescuers were accounted for and, not long after that, received news directly from Russell that he was safe.
Then came the facts of the incredible rescue from the 21st floor of Grenfell Tower.
“My fear and anxiety turned to overwhelming pride,” Albert said.
“I talked about this with my old colleagues and we know how hard that rescue must have been.”
“They must have gone through temperatures of over 1000 degrees Celsius.”
“To get to the 21st floor is a remarkable achievement, but to then find someone alive and carry her down between four of them, it’s a miracle.”
Tower block fire in London
London’s firefighters have been praised as heroes for their response to the fire.
Yesterday London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said the tough conditions and shocking scenes they faced had traumatised many of them.
London Fire Brigade said more than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines attended the scene after the blaze ripped through the 24-storey block in west London, from the second floor upwards.
She told Sky News: “They were in and out of that building, committing time after time to rescue the people we knew were in there. There was never any hesitation.”
“As the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade I was truly anxious for a long time about the safety of the building and my firefighters in there, but they were never going to stop until they physically could not get in there anymore.”
“The thing that worries me going forward is the psychological effect. A lot of my firefighters yesterday experienced things they have never seen before.”
“I spoke to some people who were truly distressed – not least because they knew there were people still in there and they were battling through the heat to get there.”
“What happened [on Wednesday] truly traumatised a lot of people.”
The firefighters “were in fear of their own lives” as they went into the building which was “alight from top to bottom”, according to Ms Cotton.
Yesterday, Albert said his son Russell and his crew acted in the finest traditions of The London Fire Brigade.
“Russell’s Gibraltar ancestry is well known in the Brigade as he is an extremely proud Gibraltarian and on the night of the fire he did his firefighting family, The London Fire Brigade and Gibraltar proud,” he said.
“Well done Russell and all those who fought the inferno on that night.”

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Brian Reyes
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