Blaina: a perpetual legacy: in the second in an on-going series looking back on incidents that fundamentally changed the Fire and Rescue Service, Tony Prosser examines the implications of the catastrophic Blaina fire in 1996.(Operational Assurance)

ON THE FIRST OF FEBRUARY 1996, a fire occurred in the South Wales valley town of Blaina. It was a simple house fire, not a complicated incident--the type of domestic fire that many firefighters would regard as a 'bread and butter' job. However, circumstances conspired to turn a run of the mill fire into one that had massive reverberations across the British Fire and Rescue Service. Stable door lessons were learned and as a result firefighters are safer due to improved training and awareness of the phenomenon known as 'backdraft'.

At 0603, Gwent Fire Brigade fire control received a call to 14 Zephaniah Way in the small Welsh ex-mining town. The retained station was less than half a mile from the two storey, two bedroom terraced house. Initial callers stated there were no persons trapped in the house and a standard attendance of one Water Ladder was dispatched with six firefighters. A subsequent caller stated that a child was upstairs in the building and fire control mobilised the next nearest appliance from Abertillery, a day-crewed station three miles away. As the first crew arrived at 0609, it received the 'persons reported' message and a crew was immediately committed to search and rescue in the first floor taking with them a hose reel jet. Within two minutes they had rescued a child.

Severe Damage

Members of the public shouted that further children were still trapped. Smoke was, in the words of a surviving crew member, "hammering" out of the house but this was the same as the conditions that were seen on arrival. The firefighters re-entered the house at 0615. Within seconds both floors burst into flames. Both firefighters were trapped and died within the house. There were no other children in the building. The damage was so severe that the cause of the fire was not able to be determined.

What was difficult to comprehend was that a double fatality had occurred in such a straight forward incident. The investigation into the cause and development of the fire involved the Health and Safety Executive, the Fire Brigades Union and forensic scientific specialists as well as the brigade itself. …

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