"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

December 07, 2017


On Oct. 28, 2016, fire destroyed the timber-framed Royal Clarence Hotel in Exeter - said to be 
England’s oldest hotel.

Flames started in an art gallery and spread to the hotel, The Guardian reported.

At the height of the blaze, the Devon and Somerset fire service said: 
 “Because of the complex structure of the old buildings here we haven’t been able to put firefighters on the inside, so we’re fighting it from the outside.

“We’ve got the aerial ladder platforms so we are pouring water on top of it. We are trying to contain it but there are signs now of damage to the bedroom floors of the hotel.”

The hotel - which escaped damage during World War II - was built in 1769 as the Assembly Rooms and in 1827 renamed the Royal Clarence after a visit by Adelaide, Duchess of Clarence, The Guardian said.

November 21, 2017


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November 07, 2017


"Thought this may be of interest. It was awarded as you can see to Sonning Fire Brigade in 1926. My connection is this would of been given to my great grandfather as he was station officer Edwards. I’m not sure why it was given.’’ - Gordon Houchen

September 20, 2017


Lewis's department store ablaze

September 19, 2017


Photo: Instagram
London Fire Brigade aerial platform, Maida Vale, 1997


Photo: Instagram
London firefighters at Sheepcote Road, Harrow, August 1995


Photos: LFB Twitter
On Sept. 18, 2017, fire gutted a warehouse at White Hart Lane, Tottenham. Twenty-five engines answered the alarm. Flames were visible across North London. Part of the structure collapsed. The brigade's response included four aerials and five rescue units.  

Photos: LFB Twitter
On Sept. 14, 2017, fire destroyed a warehouse at Chantry Place, Harrow. Propane cylinders were involved. Traffic was stopped as a precaution at the nearby Headstone Lane train station. Eight engines responded to the fire.

September 15, 2017


Photo: LFB via Twitter

On Sept. 15, 2017, an improvised bomb exploded on a train at London's Parsons Green station, injuring at least 22 people.

The London Fire Brigade dispatched six fire engines and two fire rescue units.

LFB Director of Operations Tom George said:

``The Brigade was called at 0821 and firefighters were on the scene within three minutes. Fire crews assisted the London Ambulance Service in treating casualties on the affected train.

``Firefighters also helped evacuate 253 people from a train not involved in the incident.''

July 25, 2017


Photos: Metro, BBC, London Fire Brigade

BBC Newsnight - July 7, 2017

A series of failings that hampered the efforts of firefighters to tackle the Grenfell Tower fire and rescue the building's residents have been identified by a BBC investigation.

Crews cited low water pressure, radio problems and equipment that was either lacking or did not arrive before the fire on 14 June got out of control.

Newsnight has learned a high ladder did not arrive for more than 30 minutes.

The London Fire Brigade says it has changed its procedures since the fire.

A high ladder will now automatically be sent to a fire in a tower.

An independent fire expert said having the high ladder, which is also known as an "aerial", available earlier would have given firefighters a better chance of stopping the blaze when it jumped from a fourth floor flat in the tower block and began to race up the side of the building.

More than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were involved in battling the blaze that engulfed the block in North Kensington, west London.

About 300 people are believed to have lived in Grenfell Tower and most got out on their own.

The fire brigade rescued 65 people but at least 80 people are thought to have died.

An independent fire expert said having the high ladder, which is also known as an "aerial", available earlier would have given firefighters a better chance of stopping the blaze when it jumped from a fourth floor flat in the tower block and began to race up the side of the building.

More than 200 firefighters and 40 fire engines were involved in battling the blaze that engulfed the block in North Kensington, west London.

About 300 people are believed to have lived in Grenfell Tower and most got out on their own.

The fire brigade rescued 65 people but at least 80 people are thought to have died.

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "I have spoken to aerial appliance operators in London... who attended that incident, who think that having that on the first attendance might have made a difference, because it allows you to operate a very powerful water tower from outside the building onto the building."

A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesman confirmed the so-called "pre-determined attendance" for a tower fire - the list of appliances which are automatically dispatched - has been changed from four engines to five engines plus an aerial.

The spokesman said: "An 'interim' change to pre-determined attendance for high rise buildings was introduced in direct response to the government's action to address concerns of cladding on buildings.

"The Brigade's pre-determined attendance to high rise buildings had already been increased in June 2015 from three fire engines to four as part of our ongoing review of high rise firefighting.

"It is important to understand that fires in high rise buildings are nearly always dealt with internally, not usually needing an aerial appliance.

"The fundamental issue of high rise safety remains that buildings are maintained to stop fires spreading."

The spokesman added: "The Brigade has a fleet of specialist aerial firefighting appliances and these attend a variety of incidents across the capital."

Newsnight's investigation also heard that firefighters had struggled with water pressure problems and the fire service had to call Thames Water to ask the company to increase pressure in the area.

One firefighter said: "The fire floors we went in were helmet-meltingly hot… when we were clearing flats, it was a case of a quick look and closing doors because the water pressure wasn't up to firefighting."

A Thames Water spokesman said:

 "We've been supporting the emergency services' response in every way possible… any suggestion there was low pressure or that Thames Water did not supply enough water to fire services during this appalling tragedy is categorically false."

Firefighters also described problems with radio reception inside the building and said they lacked enough of the "extended duration" breathing apparatus they needed, especially when reaching the higher floors of the building.

All fire engines have basic breathing apparatus that provides firefighters with oxygen for around 30 minutes.

The extended duration apparatus enables them to breathe for a theoretical 45 minutes - but working in dense smoke and intense heat 20 storeys up uses up the compressed air in the equipment more quickly.

The LFB said all of its rescue units carry extended duration apparatus and "all of the fire brigade's rescue units attended the incident".

The LFB said the police investigation into the fire would examine the brigade's response "including all of the issues Newsnight has raised".

Questions have also been raised about why a 42m firefighting platform had to be called in from Surrey to fight the fire at Grenfell - itself 67m high - because the LFB does not have one of its own.

The LFB spokesman said it had never responded to a fire on the scale of Grenfell Tower before.

He said: "The commissioner has made clear her intention to fully review the brigade's resources and seek funding for any additional requirements."

January 13, 2017

RIPLEY - 1969

On Feb. 10, 1969, a fire and explosion at a hardware rocked the village of Ripley in Surrey.

"The explosions sent shattered roof tiling across the High Street, windows on the opposite side of the road were cracked by the heat, properties rocked, and a gas cylinder was thrown 150 yards across the village green into trees," the Guilford Times and Advertiser reported.

Firefighters from Guildford, Woking, Esher and Camberley responded to the alarm.

"The fire began while a tanker was pumping paraffin into the store; a store which sold everything from bicycles, television sets and crockery to furniture, paraffin, gas and petrol," the newspaper said. "Large-scale evacuation procedures were pursued because of the fear that petrol tanks would explode, the tanks being under the forecourt, and under the garden of an adjacent cottage of Mr and Mrs Charles Shoesmith, who were on holiday in Majorca."

January 12, 2017


Photo: londonreconnections.com
Emergency services at London Southend Airport, about 1958. 

EALING - 1973

Photo: Cultural Community Solutions
On Dec. 19, 1973, an express train traveling at 70 mph derailed at Ealing in West London, killing 10 people and injuring almost 100 more. Investigators determined the accident was caused by an open door on the locomotive's battery box.

January 11, 2017


Photo: Birmingham Mail

On Jan. 23, 1955, an express train plowed into the platform at Sutton Coldfield station in Birmingham, killing 17 people and injuring 25 others.

"The first carriage was crushed between the engine and the second carriage," The Birmingham Mail recalled on the 60th anniversary. "Another was knocked into the air, causing it to drag along the station roof."

The train from York to Bristol was traveling at twice the speed limit, the BBC said.

It had been diverted from its normal route.


On June 9, 1902, fire claimed nine lives on Queen Victoria Street in the City of London. Escape ladders were too short to rescue people from the top floors, prompting pubic outrage.

The Spectator reported:

A great and fatal fire took place at a warehouse in Queen Victoria Street in broad daylight on Monday evening.

The building, which is close to the Mansion House Station of the District Railway and only three hundred yards from the chief City fire-station, is used as workshops, offices, and stores by the General Electric Lighting Company.

When the alarm was given at five o'clock a number of girls were at work on the fourth floor, which the Watling Street fire-escape proved too short to reach.

Many of the girls leaped into a tarpaulin held out in the street, but when the fire had been got under and the fourth floor entered the bodies of eight girls and one boy were found in the ruins.

The firemen appear to have worked with the utmost gallantry, and in particular two women were rescued by splendid efforts on the part of the men of the Salvage Corps.

But the fact that the longest fire- escape available at the chief City fire-station was unable to reach the fourth floor of a London warehouse has created a very painful impression.

We do not wish to make any criticism in regard to individuals till after the inquest, but it is clear that the life-saving apparatus available at short notice in the City, with its lofty buildings, is at present by no means adequate, and must be made so without delay, —if, indeed, the whole Fire Brigade does not require reorganization.


Photo: London Fire Brigade
On the evening of Oct. 7, 1940, Soho fire station in central London took a direct hit during the Blitz, killing Station Officer William Wilson and Auxiliary Firefighter Frederick Mitchell as well as two passersby. The station's fire apparatus sustained damage.

November 09, 2016

CROYDON - 2016

UPDATED NOV. 13, 2017

On Nov. 9, 2016, a tram derailed near Addiscombe Road in Croydon, killing five people and injuring more than 50 others. The London Fire Brigade sent eight engines and five fire rescue units.  London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said: "Firefighters worked tirelessly this morning to help the injured and rescue those who were trapped.”

September 23, 2016


: London Fire Brigade

London firefighters rescue Dennis Norman McGowan, 19 months old, on Feb. 25, 1956. The child's mother waits below.


Photos: Wikipedia, Manchester Fire & Rescue

On June, 15, 1996, the Provisional Irish Republican Army detonated a 3,000-pound bomb on Corporation Street in central Manchester, injuring more than 200 people during the Euro football championships.

Remarkably, there were no deaths.

The bomb was the largest denotation in Great Britain since World War II.

A telephoned warning preceded the blast by about 90 minutes allowing for the evacuation of 75,000 or more people.


Photo: PortCitiesLondon, Caters News Agency

The opening salvo on London's waterfront:

Fire at Surrey Commercial Docks, Rotherhithe on  Sept. 7, 1940, the first day of the Blitz.

Gerry Knight, a station officer, sent a message to the alarm office from the docks, saying: "Send all the bloody pumps you've got … The whole bloody world's on fire!" according to PortCitiesLondon.


Photo: London Fire Brigade
The canteen was one of the longest serving vehicles in London Fire Brigade history. It went in service in 1938 and continued into the 1960s, according to LFB website.  It was staffed by a crew of two firefighters. 

September 12, 2016

TAUNTON - 1978

Photos: BBC

On July 6, 1978, fire burned out a British Rail sleeping car at Fairwater Close, Taunton, killing 13 people and injuring others.

The train was travelling from Penzance to Paddington station in London when 
laundry stacked against an electric heater ignited, the BBC said.

All 31 of the dead or injured were in the front two carriages.

Car doors were locked, a violation of British Rail rules, preventing a means of escape.

A passenger said: "I remember being woken up and being carried out of the train. The place was full of smoke. All I could see was people smashing the windows and trying to get other people out."

Fireman Derek James said: "It was a really eerie scene. Then we had instructions to go in and remove the people from the carriage. It was horrendous in there."

Ray Stokes, a newspaper reporter, said people living near the tracks used wire cutters to break down a fence to render aid.

December 28, 2015


This famous photograph, St Paul's Survives, was snapped from the roof of the Daily Mail building by Herbert Mason.

On the night of Dec. 29-30, 1940, London suffered an inferno dubbed the Second Great Fire of London, timed by German raiders to coincide with low tide on the River Thames to impair fire fighting. 

Nazi bombers dropped more than 24,000 high explosives and 100,000 incendiaries, destroying historic buildings and churches and gutting the medieval Great Hall of the City's Guildhall.

The destruction stretched south from Islington to St Paul's Cathedral, scorching an area greater than that of the Great Fire of London of 1666.

As the flames approached St Paul's Cathedral, a symbol of London's glory, 
Prime Minister Winston Churchill called of the Fire Brigade and St. Paul's fire watch to save the landmark.

They did.

The Second Great Fire of London claimed the lives of 
14 firefighters and injured 250 others.

Today a fire service memorial stands on the cathedral's grounds.

The firestorm destroyed 19 churches, 31 guild halls and ravaged Paternoster Row, 
center of the London publishing trade where an estimated 5 million books were lost in the flames

-Adapted from 

November 10, 2015


UPDATED DEC. 28, 2015

Deadly helicopter crash, Vauxhall, Jan. 16, 2013

Newington Library fire, South East London, March 25, 2013

On June 5, 2013, fire leveled the Al-Rahma Islamic Centre in Muswell Hill, London.  English Defense League graffiti was painted on the side of the building, according to news reports.

Boeing 787 fire at Heathrow,  July 12, 2013

August 31, 2015


Photos: ITV, Examiner

The war years weren't immune to accidents.

On Oct. 31, 1941, fire swept H. Booth & Son clothing factory in Huddersfield, England, claiming 49 lives. 

Recalling the fire, The Huddersfield Daily Examiner said:  "The five-story clothing factory had only one staircase, no evacuation drill and a buzzer system which failed."

The cause of the fire was deemed to be "
a smoker’s pipe left alight inside a raincoat pocket," according to Wikipedia.

August 04, 2015


On Dec. 21, 1949, fire broke out in stacks of Christmas trees stored in catacombs beneath London's Covent Garden flower market - and burned for more than a day.

A fireman died; many others were injured, according to press reports.

More than 1 million gallons of water were pumped into the catacombs.

In some spaces, the water rose as high as as five feet.

Armed with pneumatic drills, the fire brigade bored holes in concrete floors allowing smoke to escape.

In a report to the London City Council on Jan. 24, 1950,  Chief Fire Officer F. W. Delve deemed the fire brigade's performance as "satisfactory."

However, historical notes on the website
Fire Net cite a variety of shortcomings.

en worked alone. "In trying to rescue a colleague, one fireman became so exhausted he barely made it back to street level to summon assistance."

As it was still the day of the "smoke eater," firemen who donned breathing apparatus (BA) often times didn’t use the equipment until they had inhaled copious amounts of smoke.


No one was taking count of firemen entering the premises;
communications were "bad to non-existent"; no minimum charging pressure for BA cylinders, with many only two-thirds full.


Photo: Daily Express
From 1953 to 2004, the British government maintained a fleet of "Green Goddess" 
reserve fire engines for civil defense and national emergencies.

Photo above shows m
ilitary firefighters and "Green Goddess" at fire in Cambridge during 2002 fire strike.

The engines were also used during the 1977 fire strike.

Illustration: BBC

July 30, 2015


Three members of the Kent Fire Brigade died in the aftermath of a fire at a psychiatric hospital in November 1957.

From Kent History Forum

The fire which broke out at Oakwood Mental Hospital on 29th November 1957 will never be forgotten by the Brigade as amongst the six killed at the scene were three Brigade personnel. An emergency call was made by the night Nursing Superintendent immediately he discovered the fire whilst making his rounds.

The call was received at Maidstone Fire Station at 06.40 hours and were on the scene within four minutes. On arrival the Brigade found hospital staff fighting the fire with a jet, direct from a hydrant. Faced with a developing fire situation at first floor level adjacent to the wards containing 350 mentally ill patients, the officer-in-charge of the two appliances and Turntable Ladder despatched in the initial response got to work after "making pumps 6" at 06.48.

Having started in the tailor's shop on the first floor, the fire raged out of control through the workshop wing, the printer's shop, the library, a staff rest room, the TV room and upwards into the roof. The fire was brought under control by six jets and the "Stop" message was sent at 07.30.

Adjacent to the section of the building where the fire had occurred was a brick built ventilation tower 115 ft in height.

Whilst the cleaning up operations were in progress and half the personnel were enjoying a well earned cup of tea, at 10.01 without any warning, the tower collapsed completely falling on the workshop block and causing the destruction of the building around it. Buried beneath the tons of masonry were several members of the Brigade and also some Oakwood staff including the hospitals Chief fireman. Others were trapped on all levels of the building from the basement to the first floor, some being in considerable danger.

The rescue operations commenced without delay and were organised by Brigade Control with firemen and hospital staff and a request was made for the  attendance of Civil Defence Rescue Parties who responded within a very short time from six towns and who were very quickly at work.

Working in extremely dangerous conditions, under large quantities of bricks and rubble and soaking wet, fire weakened timbers, the rescuers struggled through the remains of the workshops wing to rescue those who had been injured.

Recovered form the wreckage were the three bodies of the firemen who had been killed. Retained Station Officer SE Pearce who had been digging through the rubble searching for casualties found a partially buried body. After further frantic digging through the debris he discovered to his distress that he had uncovered the body of his own brother, ADO Leslie Pearce. He collapsed from shock and was taken to hospital by ambulance. Search and Rescue operations continued until the last body, that of a civilian, had been recovered at 14.30 hours on Sunday 1st December 1957.

The firemen killed were: 

ADO LA Pearce - C Division, Retained Fireman AE Farrow - Loose Fire Station and Retained Fireman JA Hawkes -Loose Fire Station.

The firemen injured were:

ADO HR Evans-Brigade Headquarters, Retained Station Officer SE Pearce Maidstone Fire Station -Retained Fireman DS Latham - Loose Fire Station, Retained Fireman GR Burden -Loose Fire Station, Retained Fireman NF Austin - West Malling Fire Station, Retained Fireman C Wallis - Maidstone Fire Station.

Before the funeral service for the three Kent Firemen on December 5th, large crowds gathered in Maidstone to pay their last respects. The procession was led by Senior Officers and over a hundred firemen from all four Divisions of the County and the funeral service attended by nearly 800 people,  was conducted by Canon FLM Bennett at All Saints Church, Maidstone.

A Tribunal appointed by the South East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board held a public enquiry into the disaster on the 30th/31st January 1958, finding that a clothes iron, which had been left on overnight in the tailor's shop, had been the cause of the fire. 

Source: Fifty Vigilant Years and CFO's Annual Report 1957/58

July 29, 2015


Fireman alongside statue of Queen Victoria after fire in Stepney, 1931

July 27, 2015


Photo: flashback.com
40 pumps, Metropolitan Wharf, Wapping, May 10, 1973


On March 11, 1914, fire destroyed the training ship Wellesley on the River Tyne at North Shields.

The old wooden warship was moored on the river as an industrial training school for wayward boys.

The fire broke out in the vessel's drying room and spread rapidly, according to the Tyne and Wear Archives and Museum.

It was the boys who battled the flames on the deck, assisted by Tyne Commissioners fire boats.

The smoke "was yellowy with this tar content in it," Edward Joseph Hatfield, one of the boys, recalled as an adult. "We had to go to port every so often and take a breather and then come back.

"There was no bother at all. We weren't panic stricken.

"In fact I think most of us were glad she was burning."