Interview: Grenfell Tower survivor struggles to leave home without panic attacks five years after deadly fire

Emma O’Connor, 33, escaped with her partner Luke, from their 20th floor flat in the early hours on June 14, 2017.

A woman who survived the Grenfell Tower fire says she still struggles to leave the house without being terrified of having a panic attack, five years on from the tragic event.

The fire - which was one of the most deadly since the Second World War - was started by a refrigerator on June 14 2017, and quickly engulfed the 24-storey building due to highly flammable cladding.

It burned for more than 24 hours until 250 firefighters put it out, with the fire killing 72 people.

Emma O’Connor escaped with her partner Luke from their 20th-floor flat in the early hours of the morning.

Emma Louise O’Connor (right) with her partner Luke (left)

“We left our 20th floor flat at 1.19am and managed to get down in the lift at 1.21am,” the 33-year-old told LondonWorld.

“My partner dragged me away to my Mum’s place half an hour after we escaped as I was in shock.”

Many of Emma’s neighbours died due to obeying a now controversial “stay put” fire policy, which said residents should stay in their flats in the case of a fire.

What kind of building was Grenfell Tower?

More than 220 people managed to escape the deadly inferno.

The couple had lived in the tower for five years and then moved in with family for a short while immediately after the fire.

Emma says she still suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and battles with survivors guilt, five years on.

“Coming up to the anniversary I often have moments where I wonder ‘why did I survive?’” she said.

“My PTSD is still as strong five years on.”

The Grenfell Tower fire. Credit: DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images

The couple are currently battling to be rehoused by Kensington and Chelsea Council, after spending four years living in a flat near three fire stations, which triggers her post traumatic stress disorder.

Emma says she checks the monitors where the fire engines go, such is her fear of being caught in another fire.

She said: “My life has changed a lot since the fire, I can’t go out without being terrified of having another panic attack.

Where the Grenfell Tower victims lived and died.

“I now live beside three fire stations and I can hear them leaving the station and I follow which direction they go.

“They’ve put us into a building, where we have had problem after problem and we didn’t even want to move in there in the first place.

“It’s taken four years for us to be put back on the housing list, we’re just not being prioritised.”

The fire at Grenfell Tower claimed the lives of 72 people

A recent report from Inside Housing revealed that The London Fire Brigade (LFB) holds no details on how to evacuate disabled residents from more than 1,000 blocks in the capital that have serious fire safety defects.

And 15 of the victims of Grenfell had disabilities which hindered their ability to escape, with the fire branded a “landmark act of discrimination” against disabled people by lawyers for their families.

However Emma says that the blame shouldn’t be put on the fire brigade.

“It’s not the fire brigade’s fault, it’s actually the government pulling the strings,” she said.

“Being perfectly honest it shouldn’t just come down to the fire brigade, it should be the government policy to have personal evacuation plans.

“The government has proved that they never prepared for the things they messed up.”

How the Grenfell Tower fire spread.

An LFB spokesperson said: “The responsible person for the building should have a plan in place to support disabled residents or those that need support to evacuate the building.

“The brigade expects the information to be kept on site and up to date so that it is available to firefighters who attend the premises.

“It’s vitally important that people feel safe in their own homes and have certainty about how to leave their building in the event of a fire or other emergency.

“We will be submitting a return to the government consultation on Emergency Evacuation Information Sharing+.”

The Grenfell Tower fire was one of Britain’s worst modern disasters, which claimed the lives of 72 people.

A Kensington and Chelsea spokesperson said: “We recognise the challenges that bereaved and survivors face as they look to the future and we have recently agreed a new Settled Homes Policy, providing additional support to those who are struggling to settle or who have a had a change in family circumstances.

“We have had 51 applications for a second move and we are committed to helping former residents of Grenfell Tower and Grenfell Walk find a home that feels like a home for life.”