Inferno 999 - Monday October 8

inferno 999 (6/6)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire and rescue services. In the last of the series, a major industrial fire threatens to spread to a bus depot, a young man trashes a supercar, and an attempted suicide puts a crew in a difficult situation.

Responding to their fourth shout since coming on duty, the firefighters from Broughton Amber Watch arrive on the scene of a major industrial fire just before 10pm. A big blaze at a dance school threatens to spread to the surrounding buildings, and the crewmen must act quickly. However, with temperatures reaching 1,200 degrees celcius and flames reaching as high as 40 feet, the firefighters cannot get close enough to fight the blaze.

Watch commander Kirk Cornwall uses his 18 years of experience to assess the situation and ensure that his crew can minimise the danger to the neighbourhood. His main concern is that the fire could spread to a nearby bus depot containing a number of canisters of a highly volatile gas called acetylene. “If it’s left to heat for too long,” Kirk says of the gas, “it could explode.” There is no time to waste as Kirk and his team search for all of the canisters.

It takes 25 men over an hour to control the blaze, before the crew’s aerial platform can take over. Once all the surrounding buildings are checked and declared empty, the platform rises high into the air and uses its two heavy-duty hoses to dump more than 3,500 litres a minute onto the flames.

The fire is eventually put out, but it has tied up four crews for over four hours, caused extensive traffic tailbacks, and put two firemen in hospital with heat exhaustion. The worst thing about this incident for Broughton Amber Watch is that the fire was started deliberately.

Elsewhere in Manchester, Moss Side Amber Watch is called to the scene of a road-traffic collision on a residential street. There are no flames as yet, but there is a surprise in store for the crew members: upon arrival, they find that the crash involves a Ferrari 360 Spider –a supercar worth in excess of £150,000.

In Manchester, it is common for young men to rent fast cars for the weekend to impress the opposite sex, but the drivers are often not able to control such high-powered engines. In this case, the young driver has taken on a stationary family saloon and lost, before ploughing into a house. The car has a top speed of 190mph, but this one barely had the chance to leave first gear before coming to an abrupt stop.

The vehicle is currently not on fire, but a spark from the battery could cause an explosion at any moment. The firefighters work fast to disconnect the electrics, but none of them have ever dealt with a Ferrari before and finding the battery proves a challenge in itself. It takes five crewmen over five minutes to locate the battery, but the problem is eventually solved with a look under the glove compartment. “It’s a beautiful car,” says crewman Matt Joyce. “It still looks half decent from here, but on the other side it’s kippered!”

Dealing with vulnerable members of the public is just another part of a firefighter’s job, so when Broughton Green Watch is called to attend an attempted suicide, it is business as usual. Just five minutes after the call was made, firefighters are on the scene, breaking down the front door of a quiet house. With a strong smell of gas in the vicinity, every second counts. Before long, the members of Green Watch are dragging a man into the street –he is alive, but ten minutes of gas inhalation have taken their toll on his health.

After some emergency treatment on the pavement, the casualty’s condition has stabilised and he is taken to hospital. “Usually when we come to things like this, they are already dead,” reflects firefighter Michael Buckley. “So it’s not a bad result, this one.”

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