Stroud man’s marathon for niece who died in Grenfell fire

A FUNDRAISER from Stroud is taking part in the London Marathon next week in memory of his niece who died in the Grenfell Tower fire.

Manfred ‘Manny’ Ruiz will be running in the annual race across the capitol on Sunday, October 3 to raise money for the Grenfell Foundation and Kids on the Green.

Manny’s niece Jessica Urbano Ramirez died in the horrific tower block blaze in west London on June 14, 2017.

Known as Jess, she was two weeks away from her 13th birthday when she and 71 others lost their lives after combustible cladding on the 24-storey block caught fire.

Over the past four years Manny and his good friend, firefighter Dave Badillo, who will also be running, have been working together to raise money for survivors.

On the night of the fire, Dave was one of the first firefighters to attend the scene.

His risked his life to try and help Jess, without realising that she was his old friend Manny’s niece.

Manny said: “Dave was coming through the tower to fetch equipment, when he met my other niece, Jess’s older sister at the front doors. She asked if he would go with her to get Jess who was alone in their flat on the 20th floor.”

At that point it was believed the fire was only on a couple of lower floors so, without stopping for breathing equipment, he took the lift up to look for her.

Dave managed to get several floors up, but the smoke was so thick he had to go back for breathing equipment before going back in. He and two colleagues then made it up to the family’s flat, but Jessica was no longer there.

They concluded that Jess must have already got out, when in fact she had fled with others to the 23rd floor to escape the smoke.

With the air in their breathing equipment running out, the men were forced to make their way back downstairs.

Once outside, Dave and his colleagues looked up at the building they had just left and were confronted with the sight of a raging inferno, with fire up to the 23rd floor.

At the same time, Manny was at home in Stroud, watching the horror unfold on the television, unaware that Jess was in danger.

In the days following the fire, families were desperately seeking news of their lost loved ones, and Dave noticed the missing posters for Jess which had been put up around Grenfell.

It was then he realised that Jess was a relative of Manny’s, and also that she was the girl he had been trying to find.

He contacted Manny via Facebook and the old friends met up a week later when survivors and firefighters held a minute’s silence for the victims.

“Dave was really distressed he hadn’t been able to save Jess, but we know he did his best for her, which means a lot,” said Manny.

“Me and Dave became friends over 27 years ago, when we both worked as lifeguards at Kensington Sports Centre next to Grenfell Tower,” he added.

“Who would have imagined that all these years later our paths would cross again under such devastating circumstances.

“It’s a heartbreaking coincidence, and to say it has affected us both is an understatement.

“We’ve shared so many tears over the last four years, but our strong friendship has helped us along the way.”

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Manny and Dave have been helping each other to heal by channelling their shared grief into raising funds to help the Grenfell community.

“These are two causes very close to our hearts,” said Manny.

“Kids on the Green is an amazing local grassroots organisation born out of the tragedy, supporting families, young people and children using art therapy through music, arts and performance, alongside alternative and holistic therapies.

“And the Grenfell Foundation, which is a charitable organisation set up at the request of bereaved and survivors from the fire.

“It will provide support and assistance to the generations affected by the Grenfell Tower tragedy for years to come, with an emphasis on community, well-being and education.”

To donate to Manny and Dave’s fundraiser visit bit.ly/3nVkwV7

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