Lakanal House fire: Victim's desperate 999 call
- 12 February 2013
- From the section London
An inquest into the deaths of six people at a Camberwell tower block has heard how one victim had a 28 minute telephone conversation with an emergency operator.
Catherine Hickman, 31, was told to stay in her 11th floor flat despite repeatedly asking whether she should leave.
The fire broke out at Lakanal House in south-east London, in July 2009.
Within six minutes of the fire breaking out, Ms Hickman had called 999.
The fashion designer told brigade control at 16.21: "I'm at flat 79 and flames are coming out the windows from the flat underneath me."
She was told by the 999 operator: "You need to stay in your flat."
Ms Hickman was trapped in the flat directly above flat 65 where the fire started due to a faulty television set.
She remained on the phone to the controller. Two minutes later she reported: "Yeah, but there is fire coming through my floorboards. What should I do? Should I get out?"
Two minutes later Ms Hickman went upstairs in her maisonette and reported: "The room downstairs is full of smoke."
The operator told her: "I want you to stay there and don't move."
The jury heard that by this time the fire brigade was on the scene preparing to fight the blaze.
The manager of brigade control was asked in court if it would have been advisable for Ms Hickman to be told to leave the flat.
He said so much information was coming in to the operators it was unclear how widespread the fire was and where the dangers lay.
At 16.30 Ms Hickman asked the 999 operator: "Should I go downstairs or into the corridor?"
The operator, by now under extreme stress, said: "No, don't go out the door. I don't know what's outside that door."
The inquest jury at Lambeth Town Hall was told the advice that was given to Ms Hickman might have been contrary to the training that 999 operators were given.
When a resident reports there is smoke and fire in their flat, training suggests they should be advised to seek a means of escape, the inquest was told.
Ms Hickman remained on the phone until 16.49, a total of 28 minutes, when she finally lost consciousness.
The head of brigade control, with 40 years' experience, told the jury dealing with the incident at Lakanal House was the worst two hours of his career due to the intensity and the unique circumstances of the fire.
Dayana Francisquini, 26, and her children, six-year-old Thais, and Felipe, three, were killed in the fire.
Helen Udoaka, 34, her three-week-old daughter Michelle and Ms Hickman also lost their lives.