When it comes to events consisting of fire in London, everyone will often immediately jump to the aptly named Great Fire of London in 1666 that started on pudding lane and quickly demolished the majority of the wooden built central area of the city.
However, there are two events in more recent times that have seen direct changes as a consequence, keeping us safer around fire in the capital.
Smithfield Market- 1958
The first of these events was the Smithfield market fire of 1958. Unfortunately, two firefighters tragically lost their lives at a tragic blaze at Union Cold Storage Co. at Smithfield Market. The fire, which broke out on 23 January in 1958 burned for three days in the centuries-old labyrinth, which ultimately collapsed. According to the news reports covering the story, when the first fire engines arrived, thick smoke poured out of the market’s maze of underground tunnels that led down into cold storage rooms.
It took an incredible 1,700 firefighters days and days to combat the blaze. During the course of the destruction, over 389 fire engines and other support vehicles attended the uncontrollable blaze and around fifty firefighters from stations across London received injuries or treated for smoke inhalation.
So, how did it change fire safety?
The tragic events prompted the fire brigade to change its policy on breathing apparatus for modern times. They introducing breathing apparatus that had incorporated tallies and systems to keep track of the location and time spent inside by firefighters once they had entered a burning building.
A designated breathing apparatus controller would now have full responsibility for managing these systems, ensuring firefighters did not run out of oxygen while fighting a blaze. Even more present-day breathing apparatus sets had compressed air cylinders and an alarm to warn the firefighter when oxygen was running low. These systems and protocols are still a vital part of firefighting today.
In modern day workplaces, fire extinguisher systems could have an immediate impact in the event of a fire and even nullify a blaze completely, thus avoiding a similar incident to the Smithfield Market fire. For more information on fire extinguisher services in London, talk to one of our experts today.
Moorgate Tube Crash- 1975
A southbound Northern City Line train from Drayton Park incredibly failed to stop at the platform. The train proceeded to plough into the concrete wall at the end of the tunnel within Moorgate station. When rescuers reached the platform, they found the front three carriages had been crushed together. The station was plunged into total darkness. A six-day rescue operation followed that involved 1,324 firefighters, 240 police officers, 80 ambulance workers, 16 doctors and numerous volunteers.
Steve Gleeson, a member of the Lambeth blue watch that day, recounted his memories of the incident. Steve said:
“We were immediately told to get our spreading and cutting gear and take it down to the platform level. As we were taking our gear down, firefighters were guiding casualties, covered in dust and grime, up the other escalators to safety, as well as to grab more equipment.”
Crews worked tirelessly in the dark, day and night. They worked their way through the dusty, structurally damaged tunnel, which was illuminated only by box lamps in an attempt to save anyone left in the rubble. Even after the fires themselves subsided, the tunnels reached upwards of 33c. Thid forced firefighters removed their helmet, tunic, belts and axes.
So, how did it change fire safety?
The cause of the accident remains a mystery to this day, but following the disaster, a 10mph speed limit – previously 15mph – was introduced on all trains entering passenger locations, and in 1978 the ‘Moorgate Protection’ system was introduced. This system now automatically applied brakes if the driver failed to do so.
There was also an increase on firefighting training in tight spaces and dark, exhausting conditions to simulate dealing with an incident in a tunnel. This was put into practice in the London underground once again during the tragic 7/7 bombings.