Firefighters are expected to be brave and resourceful in the face of adversity. In this most unusual fire, Carlisle’s city firefighters have all won commendations for exceptional work. 10 members of Carlisle Fire Brigade commended for bravery last month.
Imagine this scene in the UK. At 3.30am on a cold December morning a three-storey terraced house in Chatsworth Square, in Carlisle city centre, is fully involved and there are five people trapped at first and roof level. The Blue Watch fire team arrives. They cannot find anyone who speaks English to verify who’s missing and then discover that – due to essential maintenance – the street fire hydrants outside don’t work.
This was the impossible situation which faced 10 of Carlisle’s city firefighters. As a consequence of their brave and resourceful actions, on May 23rd, 2006, all of them received the Chief Fire Officer’s Commendation for saving five people from certain death.
The Area Manager for Cumbria’s Fire and Rescue Service, Steve Brain, told F&R’s Aidan Turnbull: “Watch Manager Anthony Rooney, Acting Crew Manager John Lynch and firefighters Frank Davidson, Daniel Bulman, Stuart Graham, David Scott, Craig Harrington, Steven Ratcliffe, Malcolm Hind and Chris Hodgson received the Commendation in recognition of the courage and professionalism they displayed in the initial stages of what could have easily been a tragic incident.”
Steve Brain commented on the fire itself: “The building in question housed migrant workers which included 11 Slovakians, none of whom could speak English very well. A discarded cigarette had initiated a fire in a groundfloor bedroom and fire spread vertically through the plaster-and-lathe ceilings and flashed up the staircase.
“The inhabitants had been alerted by smoke alarms and most had got out except for five who had become trapped on the first and second floors.”
The Blue Watch team arrived and struggled to get accurate information about who was left inside from residents in the street who were speaking Slovakian. However, they discovered that at least two people could still be trapped within the building. Deploying a 13.5m ladder unit and short extension ladder, the team managed to rescue the people who had been trapped on the upper floors. They were later treated in hospital for the effects of smoke inhalation. Reports Steve Brain: “As firefighters penetrated the ground floor of the house to search for the two missing people and find the seat of the fire, they pushed a groundfloor door ajar and there was a flashover. The kinetic energy of the blast was enough to make the glass lights explode over the front door and the firefighters escaped with a ball of flame pursuing them. “The rescue mission itself was a race to rescue people before the whole property was engulfed in flame. The firefighting element of the operation was designed to save the structure and halt fire spread to adjacent buildings which had become involved at roof level.”
This involved four pump units in total: two from Carlisle and part-time crewed pumps from Longtown and Wigton. Carlisle’s Pump Ladder Rescue units carry 1,800 litres of water to provide a first strike in fire situations, together with breathing apparatus and first aid and rescue equipment. Firefighters had to search up to 500m away to find a water source and use their vehicle supplies to provide ‘first-strike’ extinguishment.