Inferno 999 - Monday September 10

inferno 999 (2/8)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire crews. Tonight, firefighters tackle a burning building containing asbestos; a suspicious house fire is investigated; and people are reported trapped in a major house blaze.

Moss Side Blue Watch are at the scene of an old building fire where asbestos is involved. This material represents one of the greatest hazards the brigade can face, as it releases toxic particles in the air when it burns. The fire teams don breathing apparatus to stop them from inhaling the fumes before proceeding to douse the blaze. In the event, they manage to save 70 per cent of the building, preventing more asbestos from contaminating the area.

Broughton Blue Watch, meanwhile, are called to a house fire which soon proves to be dubious in nature. Firefighters extinguish the living room blaze in just two minutes, but their suspicions are alerted by the discovery of two separate piles of burning paper. These doubts are compounded by the revelation that all four gas hobs in the kitchen were turned on. “We’ve got all the recipe for a fatal incident here,” commander Ian Mackenzie reports. The fire crews realise that if they had arrived only minutes later, the combination of gas and flame would have sparked a massive inferno. “Had that ignited, we would have been talking about an explosion which would have – at the very least – taken the windows out and the front and rear of the property,” Ian says. The house becomes a crime scene and the case is handed over to the police.

The most dangerous type of house fire is at night while people are sleeping – exactly the situation faced by Moss Side Green Watch at three o’clock in the morning. The crew are on full alert with the news of “persons reported”. They are on their way to a kitchen fire at the home of four elderly brothers. It transpires that one brother discovered the blaze and raised the alarm – but the other three are still inside. The brigade arrives to discover a highly volatile situation, with flames engulfing the whole house.

Cameras travel inside the inferno as firefighters with breathing gear enter the building and begin a desperate search for the occupants. With visibility down to almost nothing, they have to grope their way through the rooms. Within minutes, one brother is rescued from the fire barely conscious. Before long, a second brother is found – tragically, it is clear that he is already dead, and the firefighters must leave him while there is still a chance that the third brother is alive. In the event, the last occupant is also found dead, while the man who was rescued dies later in hospital.

It has taken only seven minutes for the crew to locate all three brothers in the blaze, but it has not been quick enough to save them. Firefighters Pete and Mark are philosophical about the case: “We’ve come in, we’ve done the best we can – that’s all you can do,” Pete says. Rank crew commander Warren Dore agrees that the crews can be proud of their efforts: “At the end of the day, in this situation, there was very little we could do and I think you’ve got to be realistic about that,” he says. Yet it is a testament to the skills of the Manchester fire service that for Pete and Mark – with 12 years’ experience between them – this is only their first fatal fire.

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