Firefighters' union 'concerns over resources after tragic fatal flat fire in Blackpool

It is unclear whether a quicker mobilisation could have saved her life
It is unclear whether a quicker mobilisation could have saved her life
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Firefighters’ response to a fatal blaze in Blackpool was “impeded” by a lack of coverage, a union has claimed.

The Fire Brigades Union, which is seen as the voice of firefighters and other workers within fire and rescue services across the UK, said crews were late to a fire that claimed the life of a woman last month.

A woman in her 40s died after a fire broke out in a ground floor flat on Althorp Close, Blackpool

A woman in her 40s died after a fire broke out in a ground floor flat on Althorp Close, Blackpool

And while it stopped short of saying the woman’s death was avoidable, it said it was “concerning” that firefighters at a closer station were out helping the police searching for a missing person at the time.

The woman, in her 40s, was declared dead after being found inside a flat in Althorp Close, off Talbot Road, at around 12.45pm on Saturday, September 14.

A spokesman for the Fire Brigades Union said: “Essentially, a lack of resources at a station in Blackpool impeded the response to a fatal fire.

“There are two fire engines at Blackpool central fire station, both of which were sent to a missing person incident.

Blackpool's 'stinger' fire engine

Blackpool's 'stinger' fire engine

“A call to a kitchen fire came in within Blackpool station’s response zone, but they were unable to send a crew as both engines were at the missing person incident. It was a fire that required two engines to be mobilised.

“A ‘standby’ crew from South Shore station was sent instead, with a crew of just four firefighters, when five is the standard. It arrived at the incident in six minutes, longer than the target response time of five minutes.

“The second fire engine had to be sourced from St Annes station and arrived some time later.

“There was a fatality at the fire. It is unclear whether a quicker mobilisation could have saved her life.

“It’s a tragic story. A properly resourced fire station, particularly in an urban area like Blackpool, should have been able to mobilise crews to both incidents.”

Tom Cogley, chairman of the Lancashire branch of the union, added: “We are investigating the incident to see what has actually happened.

“It’s slightly concerning that four fire appliances were tied up to assist with other agencies for a missing person, which left just four firefighters to cover the Blackpool area.”

A spokesman for the Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) said the location of its fire stations and engines are based on risk and “continually assessed and refreshed every year”.

He added: “Whenever there is a critical fire in Lancashire, our mobilising system will always send the closest available resource regardless of the station area that the resource comes from.

“This is a common occurrence as firefighters are often out of the station carrying out prevention work or attending other incidents, but the plans we put into place will enable the first fire engine to meet our target response time.”

In response to the comments from the Fire Brigades Union, the LFRS spokesman said: “In the tragic case of the fire on Althorp Close on 14th September, firefighters from Blackpool were at another incident when the call came in to the service.

“The closest available fire engine was from South Shore and it arrived at the incident within five minutes and eight seconds, which is 52 seconds quicker than our target response time.

Two further fire engines from St Annes and Fleetwood attended the incident.

“Tragically, one lady was killed in this incident and it would be wholly inappropriate to speculate further pending the coroner’s inquest.

“Our best wishes and thoughts are with her family and friends.”

On the day of the fire, the service told The Gazette “the call came in at 12.34pm and the South Shore fire engine was there at 12.39pm”.

Service yet to say what actually happened

The woman’s death initially sparked a major police investigation, though the force later confirmed murder had been ruled out as a cause.

Forensics experts dressed in white suits were seen going in and out of the flat in the aftermath of the fire, while detectives were spotted carrying out door-to-door enquiries.

While the blaze is no longer being treated as suspicious, the fire service has yet to say what actually happened.

Fred Mulholland, 65, of Spencer Court, said: “Most of the buildings around here are sheltered accommodation so you don’t get to see many people if they can’t get out of their house.

“There can’t have been a big fire because there isn’t any damage to the windows but something serious must have gone on because the police have been door-to-door questioning.”

Lynn Towers, 57, of Spencer Court, added: “It’s terrible that someone has died. It’s hard to believe that a fire has actually happened as it doesn’t look like there is any damage.”

And Henry Howe, 73, also of Spencer Court, said: “It’s very tragic to hear someone is dead. I didn’t see anything until the fire service arrived. The sirens woke me up.

“That was midday, I think, and then the police also arrived later on and put tape around the flats. I think you consciously know something terrible has happened when you see that.”

Details about the fire

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service (LFRS) said: “Three fire engines from South Shore, St Annes, and Fleetwood attended a fire in a flat on Althorp Close in Blackpool.

Initially under investigation, the fire was deemed as not suspicious the day after following a joint investigation between the police and fire service.

Police officers remained at the scene overnight and into the following morning carrying out an investigation with colleagues from the Fire Service.

DI Kathryn Riley, of Blackpool CID, said: “Investigators attended and they are satisfied that the fire was not started deliberately.

“Our thoughts remain with the family and friends of the woman who died.”

On the day of the fire, forensics experts dressed in white suits were seen at around 2pm, while detectives were spotted carrying out door-to-door enquiries.

Fylde coast’s stations

There are seven fire stations across the Fylde coast with some being wholetime or retained.

Blackpool (Wholetime)

Resources:

- 2 Wholetime Fire Engine

- Aerial Ladder

South Shore (Wholetime)

Resources:

- Wholetime Fire Engine

- Prime Mover

- Hazardous Materials Unit

Bispham (Wholetime)

- Wholetime Fire Engine

St Annes (Wholetime/Retained)

- Wholetime Fire Engine

- Retained Fire Engine

- Rope Kit

Lytham (Retained)

-Retained Fire Engine

Wesham (Retained)

- Retained Fire Engine

Fleetwood (Wholetime/Retained)

- Wholetime Fire Engine

- Retained Fire Engine