A firefighter training exercise at a Shrewsbury hospital has rekindled memories of a major fire tragedy from the 1960s.

Firefighters wore breathing apparatus to run into Shelton Hospital to rescue people reported trapped - but this time it was purely a training exercise for fire crews from Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service.

But in a remarkable coincidence it mirrored a real incident which happened at the same hospital in 1968 when 24 women died in a huge blaze in one of the hospital wings.

The fire 43 years ago in Beech Wing led to a major overhaul of health and safety in hospitals across the UK.

The midnight inferno began in a locked secure ward with a total of 70 firefighters in 12 fire engines fighting the blaze back in 1968.

In the training exercise, firefighters from Shrewsbury, Minsterley, Bishops Castle and Baschurch reacted to an emergency call reporting a major fire at Plas Medygg, one of Shelton's accommodation blocks.

They responded as usual to the event which gave firefighters the opportunity to practice operational procedures and rescue techniques wearing breathing apparatus.

Brigade observers checked all levels of reaction to the emergency from when the 999 call was received at Shrewsbury fire control to firefighters arriving at the scene and incident commanders taking charge of the operation, said exercise organiser Neil Maguire.

"These are valuable training exercises which allow us to also demonstrate the correct and effective use of search and rescue procedures with firefighters wearing breathing apparatus to locate missing people," he said.

He thanked South Staffordshire and Shropshire Healthcare Trust, which owns Shelton Hospital, for allowing Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service to use the site for the in depth training venue.

The county fire service holds a number of similar training exercises each year to practice their skills in readiness for any major fire and rescue incident in Shropshire. 

Gary Gillson, a fire safety adviser for the Healthcare Trust, said that health and safety in hospitals was much improved after the 1968 hospital fire. Nursing staff now receive regular training, and there was a better staff patient ratio with just 168 in patients compared to 800 in the 1960s. 

"Shelton Hospital is the second last original asylum in the UK and it is uncanny but the original training exercise was planned for Beech Ward where the fire happened and so many people lost their lives.  That ward is now being used and we had another empty ward available for the fire training exercise.

"We are due to move into a brand new hospital on the same site in July 2012."

John Das Gupta, Head of Fire Prevention at the brigade, said that breathing apparatus for firefighters' in the 1960s was not as sophisticated as it is today.

"In those days they had to preserve their air. Many firefighters in the distant past wore beards so they could suck on them to breathe in air trapped in their beards. Not many firefighters made it past retirement because of suffering smoke inhalation from fires. Health and safety procedures have changed so much for the better for everyone today." 


Posted January 3rd, 2012 at 1330 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: andrew.lynch@pavpub.com