Paul Menacer, a 23 year-old Morgan Sindall employee who is currently working on the Crossrail Pudding Mill Lane portal project, woke up to the sound of screaming in the early hours of last Wednesday morning.
Mr Menacer looked outside of his window to the ground below. People on the ground were shouting: “Don’t jump, stay in your building.”
It was these screams that alerted Mr Menacer to the catastrophic fire that ripped through Grenfell Tower in west London last week.
At the time of going to press, 79 people are feared to be dead or missing following the incident, with this figure expected to rise.
Mr Menacer survived the blaze that tore through the tower. A fundraising appeal has been set up in his name.
Construction News visited Mr Menacer on site at Pudding Mill Lane.
Here, he tells us his story; the support he has received from the construction industry; and his career hopes for the future.
“I was fast asleep and woke to the sounds of screaming. People outside were saying, ‘Don’t jump, stay in your building’.
“Looking out of the window, I saw people down below shouting up at me to stay in my flat and not to jump. I thought it was bizarre at the time.
“I put my shoes and t-shirt on and went to the front door. When I opened it, everything was pitch black with smoke. I was confused, I didn’t know what was happening.
“It was around 2am at the time, when people were sleeping. I started knocking on my neighbours’ doors trying to warn people. No one was answering.
“I knew I had to make a split decision on whether I was going to stay in my flat, which is what the fire procedures tell you to do, or whether I was going to leave the building.
“I chose to go downstairs. As I went down I was knocking on people’s doors. No one answered.
“As I got to the fourth floor, firefighters were coming up the stairs. They told me: ‘Get out of the building now’. I was still unaware of what was happening.
“I didn’t hear any of the fire alarms go off on any of the floors as I was going down the stairwell.
“As soon as I got outside I looked up in horror. From the second floor up until the 23rd floor, the building was covered in flames.
“I saw two dead bodies; they looked like they had jumped from the building.
“There was bits of cladding falling two feet away from me. It was coming down with such speed and such impact that firefighters were telling me to run for my life.
“I ran into the safe zone that was put up around the perimeter of the building.
“When I got there I saw the full extent of what was happening. The building was covered in flames, and the fire going through the cladding like paper to a lighter.
“You could see kids screaming for help and using torches and flashlights. It was the screaming that was the most upsetting thing. You could see families high up in the tower and the fire rising up to them.
“We were given advice which was to stay in your flat and that’s what a lot of people did do thinking it was the safest thing for them to do. But clearly in this circumstance it wasn’t.
“I knew a family very well who are still missing.
“I’m staying at a hotel at the moment in Kensington, Olympia. But the council hasn’t said anything further about housing. People are worried about temporary accommodation – we’re only getting contracts for two days and renewing it every two days. Nothing is set in stone which confuses people when they need stability most.
”If the council are telling people they’re only going to renew contracts on a two or three-day basis, how do you know where you’re going to go after that?
“Morgan Sindall have told me to take as much time off as I want. They’ve been more than helpful. Construction Zone Contractors has also raised money for me and have been very supportive.”
“Personally, I don’t think that any other industry would come together and help their ‘family’ out – because that’s what my team is classed as.
“Morgan Sindall have looked after me since I started out as an apprentice, after my mum and my dad passed away.
“There are people here who have guided me through this apprenticeship and have got me to where I am today. I really thank Morgan Sindall and if it wasn’t for a few particular people, I don’t think I’d be sitting here now.
“Progressing in this industry has always been key for me. I’ve never been told I can’t do something and I’ve been told to aim as high as I possibly can. I’ve got a keen passion to get into health and safety or civil engineering.
“I’m really happy to be here, I’ve got a good team around me supporting me and I’m learning so much being on this project – being on one of the safest and biggest infrastructure projects in Europe has given me a real insight into construction.
“For me I’ve learned such good practice being here – I can take the lessons I’ve learned here and who knows, maybe I’ll be a Morgan Sindall safety manager one day.”
A Just Giving page has been set up by South London Football Network, which Mr Menacer is part of, to help raise £10,000 for him.
Donations have totalled over £6,800 so far.
One donor wrote: “To Paul from a fellow Paul and member of the Crossrail family. We’ve never met, but I hope this helps in a small way towards your eventual recovery from the terrible events of this week.”
To lend your support, visit the Just Giving page set up for Mr Menacer here.