Inferno 999 - Monday October 5

inferno 999 (5/8)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire and rescue services. In tonight’s instalment, fire crews tackle a major fire in a Victorian factory; a car fire with a difference; a bedroom blaze which sparks a desperate search for a missing child and a house fire caused by the homeowner’s negligence.

Six hours into a 15-hour shift, Broughton Blue Watch is called to a stretch of deserted heathland where two cars have been dumped and torched. The flames are quickly extinguished, but a spark from either car battery could reignite the combustible fumes at any moment, so the bonnets must be opened and the electrics disconnected.

In the Manchester area, cars are often set alight to conceal crimes, so the crews dealing with such incidents always check the vehicles for evidence. On this occasion, a search of the car boot unearths a crucial piece of criminal evidence –a cash machine. The police are called to the scene and discover that the cars were involved in an earlier heist in which thieves made off with four cash machines containing some £500,000.

Elsewhere in Manchester, it is just past midnight when Broughton Green Watch arrives at the scene of a major industrial blaze in Rochdale. The fire is burning deep in the heart of a Victorian factory and the surrounding buildings are in danger. Firefighter Dave Wolstenholme dons breathing apparatus and leads his team into the bowels of the building.

Wading through three feet of water and running the risk of being trapped under thousands of tonnes of crumbling masonry, the firefighters soak the brickwork all around the factory to create what they call a ‘fire-break’ –a barrier of water designed to prevent a blaze from spreading.After 20 minutes of high-pressure hosing, the fire-break has worked and the blaze is under control. “It’s not very comfortable being wet through,” says Dave Wolstenholme, “but you just get on with it.”

During England’s opening game of the World Cup, Broughton Green Watch is called to a home in Prestwich where a family, enjoying the football from their garden, have noticed smoke pouring through a downstairs window. As the engines arrive on the scene, the crew must act quickly to prevent a huge explosion, since the fire is burning in the utility room which houses the gas meter and boiler.

The blaze is only small, but it has ruined a newly refurbished room in just five minutes. Once the gas supply is turned off and the flames extinguished, the crewmen can look for the cause of the incident. Before long, watch commander Paul Vester has found a pile of smoking rags and concludes that the fire was caused by a cigarette carelessly discarded by a member of the family. “Had [the family] been asleep,” Paul explains, “the consequences don’t bear thinking about.”

With a disaster narrowly averted, the mother of the household –herself a smoker – feels a mixture of gratitude and embarrassment. “Without this fire brigade, we wouldn’t have a home to live in,” she says, before adding: “I am totally ashamed.”

In the Moss Side area, Red Watch rushes to the scene of a house fire where a single mother lives with her three young children. When the crew arrives, all residents are accounted for, and the firefighters are not overly concerned. “It’s a bog standard bedroom fire at the moment,” explains Crew Commander Alan Dook as he heads upstairs. However, things may be about to change when the incident commander informs Alan of some urgent news. Despite previous assurances, the mother now seems unsure as to the whereabouts of her one-year-old child.

The members of Red Watch embark on a frantic search of every inch of the house. Then, as quickly as the situation arose, the firefighters get the news they longed to hear: the baby is in the safe hands of a neighbour. However, with the fire caused by a two-year-old playing with a lighter, the situation could have been so much worse.

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