Hampshire firefighter Peter Broomfield has used the experience of witnessing two colleagues die at Shirley Towers to produce a lifesaving invention which he hopes can prevent a similar tragedy occurring in the future.

FF Broomfield was at Shirley Towers in Southampton, on April 6 2010 when St Mary's firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon lost their lives in an infamous flat fire where a subsequent inquest showed that one of the key factors in the tragedy was fallen cables hampering attempts to escape.

"I went into Shirley Towers when most of the smoke had gone but I was still getting caught up in cables even then,"  Broomfield recalled. "If you are trying to get away from heat and get tangled up in cables, you've pretty much had it. It was at that point I thought there had to be a way of stopping this happening." 

He subsequently began to formulate a special adaptation to prevent cables tangling themselves around the air cylinders on firefighters' backs.

This strap has now been incorporated into all of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's breathing apparatus (BA) sets and is now being deployed by other services around the country.

Having surprisingly discovered that no solution to the cable problem already existed, the Fareham firefighter began working on a prototype with Shirley-based company So Easy and trialled them with his White Watch colleagues.

"We'd fill a training chamber with cables and try to battle through it," he added. "It worked exactly as we hoped it would. One lad without the strap went through the chamber and got stuck in the cables, while a lad with the strap made it through."

The strap creates a bridge between the air cylinder and the backplate of the BA set and Bob Ratcliffe, Assistant Chief Officer for HFRS said the strap was an important step in preventing similar tragedies. 

"As a service, we have been committed to learning from the events at Shirley Towers and sharing this to improve the safety of firefighters across the country," he said. "We encourage involvement and innovation from all our staff and FF Broomfield's design is an inspiring example of this."

With cables also having been implicated in the deaths of two firefighters at Harrow Court in Stevenage in 2005, it is hoped the simplicity of the design and its low cost will soon see all firefighters protected by the strap. 
Posted 16/10/2012 by richard.hook@pavpub.com