A controversial documentary about the Grenfell tragedy questioned the role of the fire service and whether they could have done more. The Channel 4 Dispatches programme prompted a backlash from rank and file emergency services workers. Here Lancashire Telegraph reporter and former firefighter Amy Farnworth writes about her experiences fighting fires and saving lives – and what it feels like to walk into a burning building.

Before I begin this piece, I will make one thing clear, I’m not about to criticise the London Fire Brigade, a brigade in which I have friends, for how they dealt with the Grenfell tragedy, nor will I criticise the Channel 4 Dispatches programme for their portrayal of what unfolded that night. What I will do is try to paint a picture of what it’s like to be faced with something as dauntingly huge as the unpredictable nature of fire.

I joined the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in 2008, moving my life from Preston to the banks of the River Clyde in Glasgow. And for six years I worked out of several different stations in the Strathclyde region, including Springburn, a busy station in the city, and it was here that I spent the last three years of my career.

Lancashire Telegraph: Amy with helmet and certificate to mark six years' serviceAmy with helmet and certificate to mark six years' service

In those six years I saw a lot. I cut people from cars, evacuated buildings, rescued people from buses overhanging cliffs, extinguished warehouse fires, and exhausted myself trying to put out raging grass fires, not unlike the fires on Winter Hill last year. And I ran into burning buildings carrying more than 30kgs of equipment on my person. All without hesitation. Not all my rescues were successful. Not all the people I pulled from buildings or cut from cars survived.

And despite the training, despite the number of incidents a firefighter goes to throughout their career, no single fire is the same. You cannot predict the way fire acts. You can use your training to assess a situation, but nothing can prepare you for running into a burning building. Nothing.

Every time the bells sounded and we received a turnout slip with the words ‘persons reported’ on it, my heart skipped a beat. To say I was nervous about what lay ahead would be an understatement. But regardless of the nerves, of the apprehension, of the thoughts that ran through my mind, I ran into those buildings because that was my job, that was what I had trained to do.

Lancashire Telegraph: Amy demonstrating use of a gas suit in her firefighting daysAmy demonstrating use of a gas suit in her firefighting days

The conditions in a fire are arduous. Weighted down in full bulky firefighting kit, as well as carrying a BA set on your back, dragging a hose charged with water through a building, where you cannot see more than a few inches in front of your own hand, where sometimes, all you can hear is the whistling and crackling of the flames as thick black smoke circles around you, and all you have is your BA partner and the wall to find your way, is a task even the strongest could struggle to cope with.

A full cylinder of air in a BA set, in theory is supposed to last around 30 minutes. In conditions where the temperatures are way above 500 degrees, pulling equipment up stairs, trying to regulate your breathing, trying to send messages back to entry control via radio, trying to negotiate a building you are unfamiliar with, drains you; the amount of air and time you have inside that building is limited. More often than not, the time you spend inside a building is minimal. Heat exhaustion takes over, the air in your cylinder runs low and you’re sometimes prevented from being able do what you set out to do. Fire has no guidelines. Fires do what they please.

I remember hearing about the tragic death of firefighter Ewan Williamson in 2009, how he’d entered a pub in Edinburgh to fight a blaze and became trapped. He could easily have been one of my friends.

Lancashire Telegraph: The Grenfell tragedy (PICTURE: PA/Twitter)The Grenfell tragedy (PICTURE: PA/Twitter)

I was on annual leave the day a helicopter crashed into The Clutha pub in Glasgow in 2013, killing 10 people. My colleagues spent days tending to the wreckage. I could well have attended that incident had I been on duty.

I remember the night we were called to a fire in a tenement flat. Persons reported. I remember making my way up the stone steps to the second floor to fight the fire, moving through the smoke logged compartments, not knowing if the fire was contained or had spread.

I remember tripping over what I thought was a piece of furniture. I remember reaching down, feeling with my hands until the back of my palm rested on what I knew was a body. I remember shouting to my BA partner, who I could not see for the smoke, that I’d found someone, and we needed to get him out as quickly as possible. I remember dragging the man, who was three times my size, down the stairs, all the while trying to pull the charged hose with me for protection in case the fire had blocked our exit. I remember getting the man out onto the street and almost collapsing due to exhaustion.

Lancashire Telegraph: Amy during her training in 2008Amy during her training in 2008

I remember the call from the paramedics a couple of hours later to tell us the man had not made it. I remember that feeling, my first fire fatality.

I remember vividly the incident that was just one on a long list of factors that contributed to my decision to resign. It was October 2013, and we were called to a fire in a block of flats.

On arrival there were cars parked on either side of the road. We couldn’t get our engine down. I remember seeing the fire, which had by this time broken through the roof, flames bouncing in the cold winter sky, I remember the commotion, I remember hearing people screaming as they hung from the top floor. I remember the line of firefighters, queueing to go into the building. I remember having to smash car windows to move the vehicles that were in our way so we could position the fire engine, jack it, and use the cage to rescue those terrified people.

We saved eight people’s lives that day.

Lancashire Telegraph: The Grenfell fireThe Grenfell fire

I remember many of the thoughts that ran through my mind when I attended incidents during my six years as a firefighter, but I imagine none will ever compare to the thoughts running through the minds of the men and women who were called to the Grenfell fire.

Grenfell was an unprecedented tragedy, and regardless of what happened, there are lessons to be learned, but it is my belief that the fire service did all they could that night to help save those people.

Being a firefighter is one of the toughest jobs you could ever undertake, but it is also one of the most rewarding, and I would not change my time in the service for anything.

Regardless of the outcome of the Grenfell investigation, I am proud of the London Fire Brigade. The emergency services are there to help, and firefighters risk their lives every day to try and save people - just like Ewan Williamson did in Edinburgh - and for that, they should be commended.

Lancashire Telegraph: Amy now works as a reporter at the Lancashire TelegraphAmy now works as a reporter at the Lancashire Telegraph