Harrow Court: Call to honour fire heroes

PUBLISHED: 11:21 08 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

Flowers to honour the dead firefighters outside Stevenage fire station following the blaze at Harrow Court

Flowers to honour the dead firefighters outside Stevenage fire station following the blaze at Harrow Court

A CORONER has called for firefighters Michael Miller and Jeff Wornham to be remembered with posthumous awards for their bravery. Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas made the recommendation in his summing up at the end of the inquest into the deaths of Mr

A CORONER has called for firefighters Michael Miller and Jeff Wornham to be remembered with posthumous awards for their bravery.

Hertfordshire coroner Edward Thomas made the recommendation in his summing up at the end of the inquest into the deaths of Mr Miller and Mr Wornham in the Harrow Court blaze in Stevenage on February 2, 2005.

During the fire in flat 85, resident Natalie Close also died but her partner Nicholas Savage survived.

The inquest heard how the two firefighters had fought their way through dense smoke and heat before reaching the bedroom where Ms Close lay dead on the floor. The firefighters were then hit by a wall of fire in which temperatures may have exceeded 1,000C.

Mr Miller died instantly in the bedroom. Mr Wornham collapsed and died in the lobby outside the front door of the flat covered in molten plastic cable that had fallen from the ceiling. Firefighters from Baldock Simon Waddingham and Bob Bootle eventually managed to drag his body from the blaze.

"These men showed outstanding bravery," said Mr Thomas at the end of the nine-day inquest.

"They saved Mr Savage's life and then went back to try and save Natalie which is why I am recommending them for posthumous awards."

Mr Thomas also said every member of Blue Watch Stevenage who attended the tragedy risked their lives.

"The efforts of Blue Watch showed remarkable bravery. They had to crawl through dense smoke to do what they could.

"They were joined by firefighters from Baldock and Hitchin who also showed tremendous bravery."

Baldock station commander Ian McKenzie said: "Two fire engines and nine firefighters were mobilised from Baldock at the early stages of the incident, and I am proud of all of their efforts.

"Bob Bootle and Simon Waddingham, in particular, were cited by the coroner as having shown great bravery in their efforts to rescue Jeff and Michael."

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the father of firefighter Miller have both blamed Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service and Stevenage Borough Council for the firefighters' deaths.

Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said: "Initially there were not enough firefighters to tackle this fire safely and none of them had specific and practical training in fighting fires in high rise blocks.

"The FBU investigation concluded that the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service did not put in place what was needed to allow their fire crews to fight this fire safely.

"The service failed to put in place proper procedures, did not have adequate training and did not send enough firefighters in the initial response to tackle this fire safely."

Hertfordshire chief fire officer Roy Wilsher said: "There are lessons to be learned from what happened and I will work tirelessly to ensure that the loss of those young lives was not in vain.

"Our investigation resulted in 94 recommendations that will be put forward by the coroner. We are working on those recommendations and they will be made public."

But Howard Miller, 49, father of Michael Miller, was also quick to criticise the fire service.

"These have been needless deaths and this surrounds on-going training and procedural training. What the public would view as physical training has been replaced by watching a CD-Rom and reading memos on notice boards," said Mr Miller, who lives in Lincolnshire.

"Hands-on training to fight a high-rise fire was non-existent. My son and Jeff Wornham were not prepared for the events at Harrow Court and in my opinion needlessly lost their lives.

"I just hope something positive and good comes out of this so Michael and Jeff will not have sacrificed their lives in vain."

Verdicts:

Natalie Close accidental death

Jeff Wornham and Michael Miller the coroner passed a narrative verdict after the jury unanimously agreed on their answers to 20 questions given to them by coroner Mr Thomas.


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