‘I have a panic attack every time I hear a fire engine’: Grenfell survivor reveals battle with PTSD

‘I have a panic attack every time I hear a fire engine’: Grenfell survivor reveals she’s still suffering from PTSD

  • Emma O’Connor lived on the 20th floor of the tower with her partner Luke
  • Five years later she’s still living with PTSD – triggered by lifts and fire engines 
  • Emma and Luke escaped by ignoring instructions and taking the lift
  • Visit Metro.co.uk to read the full version of this article

When Emma O’Connor and her partner Luke caught sight of their building on fire, reflected in the windows of the school opposite, they knew they had to get out. 

Living on the 20th floor of Grenfell Tower, when the couple opened their flat door at 1am, they could see smoke rising through the vents. 

Describing their escape to Metro.co.uk, Emma says: ‘I have arthritis and I knew there was no way that I’d be able to make it down 20 flights of stairs, so we ignored safety advice and went straight for the one lift that was still working.

‘I was worried that we’d be trapped, but there was no other escape route in place for me. I didn’t have time to worry, we were just so focused on getting out.’

She credits that working elevator with saving her life.  

When Emma O'Connor caught sight of her building, Grenfell Tower, on fire, reflected in the windows of the school opposite, she knew she had to get out

When Emma O’Connor caught sight of her building, Grenfell Tower, on fire, reflected in the windows of the school opposite, she knew she had to get out

It was only when Emma, 33, got outside and she saw the scale of the fire that she realised what a deadly situation she had been in. 

‘I went into shock, and started crying. I’ve since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. 

‘I still can’t bear the thought of getting into lifts and I have panic attacks whenever I hear fire engines.’

She has now revealed how she remains traumatised following the fire, and said she has panic attacks when she hears fire engines

She has now revealed how she remains traumatised following the fire, and said she has panic attacks when she hears fire engines 

Emma recalls seeing things that night and in the following days that she will never forget.  

‘Our neighbours were screaming for help and throwing themselves out of the tower, just to try and escape.

‘I saw dead bodies being stored in the walkways of the estate and the residents who remained living there had to live with that.’ 

Emma and Luke had been living in the tower for five years before the fire, which killed 72. 

Immediately afterwards, however, the couple wanted to get out of the neighbourhood. 

‘We just wanted to move away from the community because we found it hard to look at Grenfell Tower, all burnt out.

‘But now we want to come back as local family and friends are a big part of our support network and recovery from the incident.’

Emma and Luke had been living in the tower for five years before the fire, which killed 72 (pictured)

Emma and Luke had been living in the tower for five years before the fire, which killed 72 (pictured) 

This is especially important for Emma after her private therapy – organised through her solicitors – will end this month. 

‘I don’t know how I’ll cope without them. My therapist says I should be OK by now but I’m not.’ 

Emma predicts that, with the final phase of the inquiry having recently ended, there is going to be a mental health fallout from the bereaved and survivors of the fire. 

‘You might assume that enough time has passed but there is no time cap on the recovery period for people who suffered as a result of the Grenfell fire.’

 Visit Metro.co.uk to read the full version of this article

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