Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack has spoken out on the 30th anniversary of the Gillender Street fire in Tower Hamlets, London. Two firefighters died in the fire after running out of air.
Wrack has personal links to the tragedy, having worked at Kingsland fire station with one of the firefighters who died, and having attended the tragedy himself on behalf of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
The fire, on 10 July 1991, claimed the lives of Terry Hunt and David Stokoe. The fire was not brought under control for several hours, and was attended by more than 25 fire engines. Breathing apparatus safety procedure was later criticised in relation to the fire.
Wrack has drawn a clear line between the tragedy and current attempts to weaken breathing apparatus regulations for today’s firefighters, saying that the progress made after this fire and several other tragedies is in danger of being turned back. There are currently moves to weaken breathing apparatus regulation, with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) producing guidance to this end.
The NFCC guidance provides for firefighters to go beyond the entry control point at a fire (i.e. beyond where the air is safe) without turning their breathing apparatus on. The FBU has successfully argued that this is a risk to firefighter safety at a health and safety panel for the London Fire Brigade, but the NFCC guidance is yet to be withdrawn.
The FBU has unveiled a red plaque to mark the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, and remember the firefighters who lost their lives. The union’s red plaques commemorate firefighters who died in the line of duty.
Matt Wrack said: “This was a tragic loss of life that has stayed with all concerned ever since and which devastated families and workmates. David and Terry did their duty and went into a dangerous warehouse fire, but paid with their lives. We continue to remember their bravery today, and they continue to be missed by family, friends and colleagues. At the FBU we are committed to remembering them, and fighting for firefighters‘ safety today.
“After the fire, we learnt lessons which informed later progress on breathing apparatus procedure. Yet attempts are now being made to try and weaken protections around breathing apparatus. This tragedy and tragedies like it show that this is never an option.”