Harrow Court: Tribute to hero firefighters

PUBLISHED: 11:19 08 March 2007 | UPDATED: 11:40 06 May 2010

Michael Miller

Michael Miller

HERTFORDSHIRE coroner Edward Thomas was overcome by emotion when he finished his summing up at the end of the inquest into the deaths of the three victims of the Harrow Court tragedy. Mr Thomas had to steer 18 witnesses through eight days of often difficu

HERTFORDSHIRE coroner Edward Thomas was overcome by emotion when he finished his summing up at the end of the inquest into the deaths of the three victims of the Harrow Court tragedy.

Mr Thomas had to steer 18 witnesses through eight days of often difficult and harrowing evidence.

But he said he is determined to urge the Government to take action to warn people about the dangers of tea light candles, which were responsible for the Harrow Court fire, and to keep smoke alarms maintained.

At the end of the inquest he finished by recalling a remark by former Stevenage firefighter Jim Dudley which he said graphically summed up the entire proceedings.

"Everybody in Blue Watch is painfully aware how dramatic this is," said Mr Dudley who has now retired. "We are open to criticism. Sitting here is very painful but we are willing to go through that pain to make sure it does not happen again."

"With regard to tea lights, I can't write to every household in the country and also warn them to keep smoke alarms working. Smoke detectors are everyone's first lifeline.

"They can be a nuisance if you burn the toast. But if the alarm wakes you up it gives you and your family a chance to escape from your home in a fire."

With regards to tea lights Mr Thomas added: "They should have a message on the bag. Because they are in a metal container they give a false sense of security which is why I'm writing to the Institute of British Standards and the Government about my concerns about tea lights and possibly of TVs being fire resistant.

"Something has to be done to make sure this does not happen again."

With regards to the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service Mr Thomas said: "The fire service, I hope, will not flinch in learning the lessons of Harrow Court and take on board the recommendations so the lives of Jeff and Mike will not have been lost in vain.

"The firefighters have spoken to the inquest from day one of their suffering and unimaginable trauma. They all answered questions openly and honestly.

"They had a right not to answer questions but they wanted to give evidence to help the future of firefighters.

"The Fire Brigades Union and the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service can hopefully work together to make sure the events of Harrow Court are not repeated."

MATTERS ON WHICH THE JURY MADE THEIR FINDINGS

1. The date and location of the fire - February 2, 2005, Flat 85, 14th Floor, Harrow Court, Silam Road, Stevenage, Herts SG1 1JT.

2. Why the smoke alarm in the flat was not working - No electrical supply due to non-payment to meter and no battery back-up.

3. Were the crews attending initially familiar with high-rise procedures and the building - It would seem from the evidence heard that they were initially familiar with high rise procedures and the building.

4. The cause of the fire - Unprotected tea lights placed directly on television.

5. How the padlocking of the dry risers came about - It had been discussed and agreed between interested parties that the dry risers should be padlocked due to vandalism.

6. The use by the crews of bolt croppers in the incident - Initially one set of bolt croppers was used to cut the dry riser padlock on the ground floor. There was a delay of approx 3 minutes of water supply due to the unavailability of bolt croppers on the 14th floor. Two sets of bolt croppers were available from the outset.

7. The number of pumps and the roles of the personnel originally attending - 2 pumps, 4 BA, 1 BAECO, 2 drivers/pump operators, 1 initial incident commander (LFF), 1 initial forward command (T/LFF).

8. The stage in the incident that further resources were requested - 03.07.45 Make pumps 4; 03.15.50 BA emergency; 03.20.13 Make pumps 8. Make officers 4.

9. Was a bridgehead established and, if so, when - Yes. Approx 03.24.45.

10. At what stage did firefighters Miller and Wornham enter the flat without hoses charged - Between 03.05.20 - 03.06.31.

11. How was one of the occupants of the flat rescued? - Rescued by firefighter.

12. Did the absence of a self-closing device on the door of Flat 85 contribute to the fire development: i) Initially in the flat - No

ii) In the lobby - No.

13. Did the absence of a self-closing device on the door of Flat 85 deprive Jeff of protection from the fire while trying to escape through the lobby -Yes, but we believe that his injuries were fatal.

14. Where were all the deceased found, at what stage had they died and when were they found - Found as described on Plan 8.

15. Did Mike and Jeff die of acute thermal injury - Yes.

16. In respect of each of them, where were they when they were exposed to that injury - Michael: bedroom 1, flat 85; - Jeffrey: Flat 85

17. Did Jeff have contact with the cables - Yes.

18. If Jeff had contact with the cables, what contact was there - Contact with his glove and BA.

19. If Jeff had contact with the cables, when did it take place - When he reached lobby.

20. If Jeff had contact with the cables, is it more likely than not that he would have survived but for the contact - No.


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