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Calls for safety advances to be preserved on 30th Anniversary of Gillender Street fire

12 July 2021

FIRE BRIGADES Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack has spoken out on the 30th Anniversary of the Gillender Street fire in London’s Tower Hamlets when two brave firefighters died in the blaze after running out of air. Wrack has personal links to the tragedy, having worked at the Kingsland Fire Station with one of the firefighters who died.

The fire, which occurred on 10 July 1991, claimed the lives of Terry Hunt and David Stokoe. The blaze wasn’t brought under control for several hours and had to be attended by more than 25 fire engines. Safety procedures around breathing apparatus in relation to the fire were later criticised.

Wrack has drawn a clear link between the tragedy and current attempts to weaken breathing apparatus regulations for today’s firefighters, in turn suggesting that the progress made after this fire and several other tragedies is in danger of being turned back. There are currently moves to weaken breathing apparatus regulation, according to the FBU, with the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) “producing guidance to this end”.

The NFCC guidance provides for firefighters to go beyond the entry control point at a fire (ie beyond where the air is safe) without turning their breathing apparatus on. At a Health and Safety panel for the London Fire Brigade, the FBU successfully argued that this is a risk to firefighter safety, but the NFCC guidance is yet to be withdrawn.

The FBU has unveiled a red plaque to mark the 30th Anniversary of the Gillender Street tragedy and remember the firefighters who lost their lives. The Trade Union’s red plaques commemorate firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

Matt Wrack stated: “This was a tragic loss of life that has stayed with all concerned ever since and which devastated families and workmates. David and Terry did their duty and went into a dangerous warehouse fire, but paid with their lives. We continue to remember their bravery today and they continue to be missed by family, friends and colleagues. At the FBU, we are committed to remembering them and fighting for firefighters’ safety.”  

Wrack concluded: “After the fire, we learned lessons which informed later progress on breathing apparatus procedure, yet attempts are now being made to try and weaken protections around breathing apparatus. This tragedy, and others like it, show that this is never an option.”