Socialist Worker

Questions over Southampton firefighters' deaths

by Tom Walker
Issue No. 2197

Two firefighters, James Shears and Alan Bannon, died last week in a fire at a block of flats in Southampton.

Around 250 people gathered outside Shirley Towers last Sunday to pay their respects.

FBU union general secretary Matt Wrack said, “The thoughts of firefighters across Britain are with the families of those who died.”

The press reported that the fire started accidentally after a couple left a curtain draped over a lamp.

But serious questions remain unanswered.

lHow did the fire spread so rapidly? Witness Kristina Baldacchino said, “We saw the fire engines arrive at what appeared to be a small fire.

“Yet within an hour it was ripping through the entire block.”

  • It took 20 fire engines four hours to bring it under control.

    Why hadn’t standard fire safety precautions slowed its spread?

  • A postmortem revealed the firefighters died of exposure to intense heat.

    But how did this happen to the experienced firefighters? Were they trapped?

    Ashley Le Marechal, a resident, says he was told an internal staircase had collapsed through a floor. Is this true?

  • Two men, Daniel Digby and Michael Dawson, died in Shirley Towers in 2001 after falling down a lift shaft.

    The doors swung open “in the style of a cat flap”, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Lift operator Otis was fined £400,000 plus £145,000 costs.

    It had failed to carry out scheduled maintenance on the rusting lifts. Were other parts of the block in similar disrepair?

  • Southampton council says a risk assessment had been done on the block, and another inspection took place after six people died in a tower block fire in Camberwell, south London, last July.

    But the council is refusing to release either report. What do these reports reveal?

  • The incident has also highlighted the wider issue of safety for firefighters. At least 24 firefighters have been killed on duty since 2003.

    Yet between February 1996 and October 2002 none died. What changed?

    In 2003, the deal that ended the firefighters’ national strike unleashed a wave of “reforms” and cuts.

    An FBU report in 2008 found “evidence linking the new regime and new ways of working with increased risks to firefighters”.


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News
Tue 13 Apr 2010, 18:51 BST
Issue No. 2197
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