Inferno 999

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.”

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.

inferno 999 (4/8)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire crews. Tonight, crews tackle a chemical spill at a factory; an old lady becomes the victim of a house fire; and firefighters venture into a squalid drug den to check out a blaze.

For the busy crews of the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, each shift represents a new challenge – and it is not always a fire. In tonight’s programme, Moss Side Red Watch is called to the scene of an unknown chemical leak at a factory, where one worker has already become a casualty. While paramedics treat the man’s stinging eyes, police cordon off the surrounding streets and the fire service attempts to identify the chemical. A factory employee suspects the substance could be bromide – a highly dangerous compound that could contaminate the surrounding area.

Firefighters in chemical protection suits take a sample from the box containing the substance and give it to the technical support team to analyse. The result is good news: the chemical is bromine, which is non-lethal. The scene is quickly returned to normal – but this false alarm has been an expensive operation: the incident has occupied four fire crews, six police officers and two ambulances, at a cost of £40,000.

Elsewhere, Red Watch finds itself on the scene of a kitchen fire in the home of an 85-year-old lady. The room has been badly scorched by the fire, but the watch is more concerned with the fate of the lady, who, because of her age, is especially vulnerable to smoke inhalation. “You can tell by her face that she’s taken a lot of smoke in,” says crew commander Alan Dook. “She’s also set fire to her slippers, so she’s going to have burns on her feet. Due to her age, and the fragility of her, we could be looking at a fatal incident.”

A quick appraisal of the scene reveals that the lady made the fire worse by attempting to tackle it herself. “It’s quite a simple cooker fire, and because the lady has put herself at great risk by trying to take the fire outside, she’s burnt herself and the rest of the house by the back door,” says watch commander Andy Dwane. “Whereas, obviously, the advice we give everybody is: shut the door on the fire, get out of the house, call us and we’ll sort it out.” This time, however, the watch’s worst fears are unfounded, as the old lady recovers in hospital.

An entirely different situation confronts the watch at the scene of a fire in a derelict property. The blaze is extinguished by the time they arrive, but Alan Dook and a colleague must still enter the premises to ensure the danger has passed. Inside, they are confronted with a dark, dirty interior that is clearly being used as a doss house by drug users. Among the drug-taking paraphernalia are used syringes, rubber bands and methadone. “The main danger for us are the spent needles,” Alan explains. “We’re walking about, there’s no light in the building, it’s quite possible we could have put our hands on any of their needles.”

With the derelict building secured, firefighter Ted Brennan reflects on the job. “I don’t like going in places like that,” he admits. “I mean, it’s more dangerous than going in a fire most of the time… You never know what you’re going to get with a building like that.”

Also in this episode, Broughton Blue Watch is called to a car fire on wasteland. The firefighters must drag their hoses through the undergrowth on a half-mile trek to reach the blaze. Meanwhile, Broughton Red Watch confront a conflagration at a scrapyard, where a number of cars and old tyres have turned into a giant bonfire.

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.

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.

inferno 999 (1/8)

Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire crews. This eight-part series gains unique access to the work of these dedicated men and women with the help of pioneering camera technology.

The first edition sees the fire crews tackle a fire in a truck yard; an arson attack on two cars; and a blaze in a child’s bedroom. The brigade also comes to the rescue of a mother and daughter trapped in a ferocious house fire.

In the middle of the night, Manchester’s Amber Watch are called to a conflagration in a truck yard, where a vehicle containing gas cylinders is in danger of sparking a massive explosion. The team works quickly and decisively to extinguish the blaze. For watch commander Kirk ‘The General’ Cornwall, the incident represents the epitome of what firefighting is all about: “This is what you join for,” he says. “You get stuck in, get dirty and put fires out. Love it!”

Elsewhere, a team is despatched to the scene of a car fire. Fireman Dave ‘Dodgy’ Wolstenholme reflects on what might be awaiting them: “You never know what you’re going to get,” he says. “Could be a genuine car fire, where a car just bursts into flames, but that’s rare. They’re usually arson attacks.” Dave is proved correct when they arrive to find two cars owned by the same man ablaze. The watch extinguishes the fires but both cars are beyond repair. The commander suspects the cars’ owner has been the target of a personal attack, so he hands the case over to the police.

Car fires such as these are common in Manchester, with around 80 reported each week. But potentially more dangerous to the public and to firefighters are house fires. At nine o’clock in the morning, crews must tackle a blaze at a family home where a three-year-old boy with ADHD has set fire to his bedroom. The family has escaped but it takes the brigade over two hours to stamp out the fire and determine the likely cause: mum Tanya’s cigarette lighter.

However, the most dramatic incident of the edition comes when Blue Watch are called to a house fire where people are thought to be trapped. Cases with ‘persons reported’ put the crews on their highest alert. In this case, fire engines arrive to find the downstairs of the house has been consumed by flames, with two women stuck upstairs. Firefighter Kevin Williams risks his life to carry one of the women down the ladder without breathing gear or a helmet to protect him. After some confusion, the crew establishes that all the people inside have been rescued, and two men enter the house to tackle the inferno, where temperatures reaching 1,000°C have vaporised furniture and possessions. “It’s unbelievable… it’s burning my face!” one firefighter reports.

The house fire is one of the fiercest that the Manchester crews have ever tackled, and the Moss Side and Stretford Blue Watches are awarded commendations for bravery. There is also a personal commendation for Kevin Williams. It has been a typically hazardous mission for a service that constantly faces situations where a few seconds can make a difference between life and death.

inferno 999

Every hour of every day, the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service is on the front line – on call to deal with fires, emergencies and accidents. The largest fire service in the UK outside of London, the Manchester brigade responds to over 52,000 incidents a year. There is no such thing as an average day for its crews, with no incident or fire ever the same. Inferno 999 goes to the heart of perilous firefighting situations as it follows the daily lives of Manchester’s fire crews.

This eight-part series gains unique access to the work of these dedicated men and women with the help of pioneering camera technology. Firefighters are rigged with cameras housed in heat-resistant casing to allow an unprecedented view of their death-defying exploits. With the help of these powerful images, the series reveals the hazardous conditions and extreme pressures fire officers face, recording the frightening reality of their working lives.

The first episode sees the fire crews come to the rescue of a mother and daughter trapped in a ferocious house fire – an operation that resulted in the Watch being awarded a commendation for bravery and individual recognition for two of the crew. It is a typically hazardous mission for a service that constantly faces situations where a few seconds can make a difference between life and death.

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