Inferno 999 - Monday September 17

inferno 999 (3/8)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire crews. Tonight, fire teams tackle an arson attack on a vacant property; an old school building is at risk of a flash fire explosion; and Broughton Amber Watch fights a suspicious house blaze.

Philips Park White Watch is on the scene of a typical problem facing the Manchester fire service – an arson attack on a derelict house. This is the fifth call to the same housing estate in a fortnight, and the crews must work fast to douse the blaze in an end-of-terrace property before it can spread. “We’ve had problems on this estate before,” watch commander Neal Pickersgill says. “Basically, kids have gone in and fired it.” The firefighters enter the house with breathing apparatus and knock out the windows to release the steam created by their water. In minutes, the temperatures drop and the flames are extinguished.

Elsewhere, Broughton Green Watch is called to an old school building that is billowing with smoke. The building is now used as storeroom, and the watch faces the danger that the gases inside may overheat and explode. “If the unburned gases can’t escape from a premises, the pressure builds up and then you get what we call a ‘flash fire’, where the whole place simultaneously ignites,” explains Mike ‘Dolly’ Parton, crew commander.

The team must prevent an explosion by heading into the heart of the fire to cool the gases – but in soaring temperatures of more than 1,000 degrees Celcius, their water turns into scalding steam. Cameras venture into the flames with the firefighters as they attempt to douse the blaze from the inside. “I’m getting too hot,” one fireman says. “I’m overheating, I’m gonna have to get out.” The firefighters withdraw and the crew brings in an aerial platform to tackle the inferno from above. From the platform, firefighters punch a hole in the roof to vent the gases and blast the fire with water. With the blaze under control, crew man Phil Heywood can reflect on the job. “It’s excitement, adrenaline. You just never know what’s gonna happen in there,” says Phil, who was once a pupil at the former school.

Broughton Amber Watch, meanwhile, is dispatched to a house fire of suspicious nature, where neighbours have reported odd activity around the property and a strange smell. The firefighters waste no time in entering the house, where roasting temperatures and thick smoke provide formidable obstacles. The crew breaks the windows to clear the smoke and extinguish the fire. Once the danger is passed, they are able to establish the source of the strange smell: it transpires that the property was a cannabis farm, with some 400 ultraviolet lights being used to grow illegal plants. A power surge from these lights is thought to be the cause of the fire, which rapidly consumed the entire harvest – with a street value of £300,000.

However, the life of a Manchester fire crew is not all about plunging into burning buildings. Also this week, firefighters are called to a notorious Salford estate where bored kids have made it their pastime to set fire to cars. And Moss Side White Watch has to clean up the aftermath of a Saturday night when a small fire breaks out in a kebab shop. Crew commander Nigel ‘Nige’ Travis finds his different skills as a firefighter and a trauma tech put to use when he tackles a vat of boiling oil with some frozen chips, before treating the casualty of a street fight outside the shop.

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