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Stylist’s Women of the Year 2017: The Grenfell firefighter

Posted by
Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett
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Louisa De Silvo is a London-based firefighter. On 14 June 2017, she and her colleagues were called to the fire at Grenfell Tower. The building held 129 flats. Although 71 people died, 223 people escaped thanks to the work of all the emergency services personnel. Here, Louisa speaks on behalf of them all.

“I have worked for London Fire Brigade for eight years, and now serve as a watch manager at Chelsea Fire Station. Being a watch manager means I am in charge of the firefighters who are on duty on a particular shift, and I ride on the fire engine to emergency incidents.

I decided I wanted to become a firefighter because I was inspired by wanting to do something that I would be proud of and enjoy, and also because I have always preferred jobs that are practical, unpredictable and varied. Being a firefighter certainly covers all those bases, as you never know what your next shift will hold.

Since becoming a firefighter in London, I have responded to a huge range of emergency incidents, including house fires, animal rescues and road-traffic collisions, but this year I was among the hundreds of firefighters who attended the tragic Grenfell Tower fire.”

The fire helmet that Louisa wore to enter Grenfell Tower

“I arrived at Grenfell quite early on; seeing a developed high-rise fire, I felt this would be a challenging incident. It wasn’t until I left the building some hours later that I saw the full extent of the fire. 

Witnessing such devastation was very surreal and shocking to see. No emergency job I have ever been involved in has compared with the Grenfell Tower fire, and I hope nothing of that scale ever happens again. 

I have experience of attending fires in tower blocks, but no incident comes close to the lives lost, the extent of the damage done due to the unprecedented nature of how the fire spread and how hard every single firefighter worked.”

A woman brings water to fire crews and evacuated Grenfell Tower 

“Understandably, the significant nature of the Grenfell fire has had an impact on many firefighters, and it is comforting that we know our commissioner, Dany Cotton, has spoken openly about receiving counselling after the fire and has encouraged others to do so.

The response of the local community after Grenfell has been unbelievably amazing. The way they came together to support each other and those who lost their homes and belongings, and those who lost relatives and loved ones, was truly inspirational. 

The fact that this community also gave food and drink to firefighters, despite going through such a tragic event, was overwhelming and very humbling.”

To celebrate the best in people, Stylist photographed and interviewed 10 heroic women – just a few of the many who served to inspire us all in 2017. To see the rest of our Women of the Year 2017, click here.

The Fire Fighters Charity supports UK firefighters who are ill, injured or in need of psychological support in order to come to terms with the situations they face daily. Donate at firefighterscharity.org.uk

Photography: Mark Harrison. Additional images: Rex Features.