http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7098306.stmBlaze that changed firefighting
By Clifford Thompson
BBC News [photos on link]
The King's Cross fire claimed the lives of 31 people on 18 November 1987. The BBC's Clifford Thompson, then a firefighter, was on duty when the disaster struck.
I was based at Stratford fire station in east London. We had just started a 15-hour night shift, when we heard over the radio a major incident had been declared at King's Cross Tube station, and we knew a serious fire was in progress.
During the next few hours, the full horror of the fire unfolded, and news reached us a member of the brigade was missing.
This was the pre-mobile phone era, and we knew something tragic had happened when senior officers at the fire were told to contact the control room by landline.
The news soon reached us that the fire had claimed the life of Station Officer Colin Townsley, who was among the first firefighters to arrive at the incident.
The fire and the subsequent public inquiry by Sir Desmond Fennell led to a number of changes to both firefighting procedures and equipment.
At the time, the uniform worn by firefighters consisted of thin yellow over-trousers, a woollen tunic and cork helmet, which left much of a firefighter's neck and ears exposed, even when wearing breathing apparatus. The gloves would have been more at home in the garden.
Sir Desmond's report, published in November 1988, made more than 150 recommendations.
Soon after the fire, smoking was banned across the entire Tube network - it was a lit match that dropped on to the escalator that started the fire.
Gradually, the old wooden escalators were replaced and Sir Desmond recommended heat and smoke detectors be fitted to rooms housing escalator machinery.
Legislation was passed to cover Tube stations, enforcing minimum safe staffing levels, means of detecting and warning of fires, means of escape and standards of fire-resistant construction.
Improvements were made to personal protective equipment for firefighters - the combed-helmet was replaced by Kevlar headgear, and some fire and rescue services have opted for a design that encloses the ears.
Padded over-trousers and more substantial tunics, with collars were also introduced.
Sir Desmond was scathing in his criticism of the emergency services.
He visited King's Cross just after the fire, and said: "It was horrific, like going down into Hell". His report criticised the firefighters for not being aware of all the access points.
Nowadays, plans to the station are kept outside every Tube on the network to help fire crews in case of an emergency.
Following the 11 September 2001 terror attacks in the United States, the UK government launched a programme to provide specialist resources for tackling major incidents.
By 2004, £56m had been spent on new vehicles and equipment for fire services in England and Wales, and on training firefighters in urban search and rescue (USAR).
USAR teams and equipment from five fire services, including the London Fire Brigade, were used to recover the bodies of three firefighters killed in a warehouse fire in Warwickshire on 2 November 2007.
The fire service is also committed to a new UK-wide digital radio system, known as FireLink, which will enable crews to talk to other emergency services, and between surface and sub-surface locations, although it is not expected to be fully operational until at least 2008.
http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM ... FLAkgLmlXgKing's Cross radio faults remain
Emergency services still lack radios for use underground, 20 years after the King's Cross train station fire led to calls for their use.
There were calls for the new system after the fire, which killed 31 and injured about 60, and the report into the 7 July bombs highlighted the issue.
An emergency services radio network for underground use is not expected to be ready until the end of 2008.
A wreath was laid at King's Cross on Sunday on behalf of London Underground.
Staff placed it at the station's memorial plaque for the victims of the fire, to mark the 20th anniversary of the tragedy.
It is thought a smoker's dropped match, which fell on to an escalator and subsequently slid beneath the staircase, started the blaze at King's Cross St Pancras station on the evening of 18 November, 1987.
How firefighting changed
The blaze reached the ticket hall and took almost six hours to put the fire out.
Recalling the scene, rail passenger Peter Gidley said he was on the mainline station concourse and saw "thick black smoke belching from all the Underground exits".
"If hell exists, it was on display that night," he said.
In February 1988, QC Desmond Fennell headed a public inquiry into the fire.
His recommendations, which led to the tightening of safety on London's Underground network, included the introduction of radios that can be used below ground level.
Sir Desmond Fennell said "it seems extraordinary" that "the Americans can communicate with a man on the moon", yet people in the UK cannot establish a radio network to "get a system going 20 yards beneath the surface".
Earlier this year O2 Airwave was awarded a contract to link the Airwave radio network used by the police and emergency services to the Tube's new digital radio system, with the aim of the system being operational on all Underground lines in 2008.
In February, when the £115m contract was announced, Mayor of London Ken Livingstone said the radio network would "bring added flexibility to the way that emergency services operate".
British Transport Police, responsible for policing the Tube network, already has radios which operate underground.
Under current working arrangements, emergency workers accompanied by a transport police officer who has a radio which works below ground, can contact those below ground level.
The limitations caused by this arrangement were made clear in a London Assembly report highlighting the emergency services' response to the 7 July London bomb attacks.
The report stated that police, fire and ambulance staff all used different radio systems and rescuers at ground level could not talk to their colleagues underground.
Richard Barnes, chairman of the committee examining the emergency service response, said it was "unacceptable" that recommendations made after the King's Cross fire had still not been implemented.
However, John Healey, minister for local government, said "many lessons" had been learned since the disaster.
"The ongoing roll-out of common radio systems across the emergency services will improve inter-service radio communications.
"The installation of a digital radio system on the London Underground will also further improve the emergency services communications across the Underground network, and this should be complete by end 2008."
Progress on Tube fire safety regime
3 days ago
Progress has been made in agreeing a new fire safety regime on London Underground, it was announced, on the eve of the 20th anniversary of the King's Cross tube blaze which claimed the lives of 31 people.
A joint statement by the Government and trade unions said that "fruitful discussions" have been taking place to find a balance between a fire safety order and regulations brought in in the wake of the 1987 fire.
Fire minister Parmjit Dhanda said: "The 20th anniversary of the tragic King's Cross fire provides a timely reminder of the crucial importance of fire safety."