A new plaque has been unveiled to remember the firefighter who died in the King’s Cross fire in 1987. The fire is one of the worst fires in recent British history, with 31 people losing their lives and more than 100 people badly injured.
Colin Townsley, the firefighter killed, was part of the first group of firefighters on the scene. He was found on the station concourse, alongside the body of a woman he was trying to save. Witnesses reported a firefighter, believed to be Colin, telling passengers to get out just before a fireball erupted. In the aftermath of the fire his bravery was recognised, with the official inquiry terming his actions “heroic”, and the George Medal being awarded posthumously.
The Fire Brigades Union’s red plaque scheme recognises firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty, and are often placed near the scene of the incident. The plaque for Colin Townsley was unveiled on the 34th anniversary of the tragedy, on 18 November, and is situated at King’s Cross Station.
The King’s Cross fire began when a match was dropped through a wooden escalator and hit grease and litter gathered below it. The fire was relatively small until it erupted into a fireball, rushing up the escalator, killing or seriously injuring most of the people in the ticket hall.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said:
“The King’s Cross fire was a horrendous incident that led to significant safety changes. Every single life lost that day is a tragedy. Today, we remember the bravery of Colin Townsley, who died trying to save others. He and his sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
The fire led to a number of safety changes, including fire safety provisions at tube stations, safety procedures at underground train stations and improvements to equipment such as the daily equipment used by firefighters.
It resulted in a huge improvement to firefighters personal protective equipment, which the Fire Brigades Union had long campaigned for. Until the changes which followed King’s Cross, firefighters wore clothing such as helmets, plastic leggings and rubber gloves which were all capable of melting, with the gloves melting straight onto skin.