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An on-scene report by Assistant Divisional Officer Steve Dudeney - London Fire Brigade.
20 Pump High-rise Fire; Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W.2 - 29th July 2003 - 50,000 square feet of fire!!!
The Pump Ladder, Pump and Turntable Ladder from A21 Paddington and the Pump from A22 Manchester Square were called at 20:44hrs (BST) to a Fire Alarm Actuating at Telstar House, Eastbourne Terrace, Paddington, London W2.
Telstar House is a Thirteen Storey Steel framed concrete Office Building built in the late 1960’s measuring approximately 300ft x 50ft. It has a Ground Floor entrance lobby and the upper floors are built above an open parking area. There is also a two Storey retail/Living unit used as a Public House/Restaurant built adjacent to the Ground Floor entrance lobby. There is a Staircase at each end of the Building, the staircase at the Eastern (main entrance end) also has a protected Elevator/Firefighting lobby. No sprinklers are fitted within the structure but all areas are covered by an automated Fire detection system. Each floor of the Building is open planned with multiple work Stations and low level partitioning. There is no HVAC system fitted in the Building, ventilation is provided by pivoting windows across the façade of the Building. At the time of the fire, the Building was occupied by a project team from London Underground Limited (London’s Underground Railway Operator).
The first Crews arrived three Minutes after the initial call (A21 Paddington Fire Station is less than half a mile away). Crews arriving at the Building could see no signs of fire and had no reason to suspect that this call was any different to the 14 other Alarm Calls that had been attended in the Building in the previous 12 Months; Nevertheless, in accordance with LFB SOP’s Crews were rigged in SCBA and equipped with Firefighting equipment.
The first Incident Commander approached the entrance to the Building and was informed by an on duty security guard that the alarm panel was indicating a fire on the 7th Floor of the block. Asked if everyone was accounted for he could not be sure but suspected that one person, allegedly working on the floor below the fire had not been accounted for.
The Station Officer sent his deputy and a Crew wearing SCBA and 1.75 Inch hose up to the Fire floor. They alighted the elevator on the floor below the fire and were met by a janitor who pointed upward and continued down the stairs. As they approached the entrance to the 7th Floor Office the Crew saw smoke and Flames behind the door. The Sub Officer radioed the IC and informed him that there was a fire in Progress and that the riser (standpipe) should be charged with water, he ordered the two SCBA wearers to connect the Hose and nozzle and don their SCBA, meanwhile he and another Firefighter attempted to attack the fire with a small bore fixed hosereel fitted inside the building.
At this time the third Pump from A22 Manchester Square pulled onto the block, Firefighter from this Appliance saw some evidence of smoke coming from the seventh floor windows at the Eastern end on the South side.
The Sub Officer and Firefighter on the 7th floor started to attack a fire in the first ‘work bay’ on the left using the fixed Hosereel; this had no effect on the fire which was burning from floor to ceiling and had entered the false ceiling panels overhead. They retreated to the Firefighting lobby and closed the door behind them. At this time they were joined by the two SCBA Firefighters who had connected the 1.5 Inch hoseline to the riser outlet on the floor below. The line was charged and the Crew entered the Fire compartment.
Only a matter of Minutes after the first two Firefighters had withdrawn, the SCBA Crew entered the Fire compartment and were immediately faced with a severe fire that was rapidly consuming the 7th Floor open planned office. The heat was unbearable and they were immediately forced onto their Stomachs where vision was nil and heat was beginning to penetrate their turnouts.
They withdrew and requested that the Aerial ladder be deployed to ventilate the Fire floor.
At about this time, The Station Officer at the command point in the street was interrupted by a bang; he looked up and saw that the fire had broken out of a window on the 7th Floor. He immediately made Pumps Four, the time was 20:53hrs. Crews had been in attendance for no more than 6 Minutes.
Four minutes later Pumps were made up to six, further Crews were despatched to the 6th floor to set up an effective Bridgehead as well as a Crew who were committed to the 8th Floor with another 1.5 inch Handline to search for missing persons and check the fire above. By the time the line was charged and the Crew committed, the 8th floor was becoming smoke logged but fire had yet to penetrate that level.
At this point most of the windows on the fire floor had failed and flames were licking the 8th floor, conditions inside the fire floor had improved slightly due to this ventilation and a second Crew were committed however the increased ventilation had seen to it that the whole floor was involved in fire, the 1.5 inch handlines with combination nozzles were proving ineffective in overcoming the rate of burning due to insufficient flow and reach.
An additional hand line was got to work by inserting a dividing breeching (Siamese) into the 6th floor riser, this involved a temporary loss of supply to one of the lines. As soon as the supply was re-established to these lines…albeit at a lower flow, another Crew entered the Fire floor. The first Crews withdrew due to low pressure warnings on their SCBA leaving a Crew of two within the fire floor.
This crew soon became overwhelmed by the volume of fire and the senior of the two made the decision to withdraw. Progress out was slow as a large amount of electrical cabling was hanging from the ceiling and the Crew were becoming entangled in it. They were also feeling the first signs of heat exhaustion.
At this point the First Assistant Divisional Officer (Chief) arrived on scene and took over command of the Incident from the Station Officer, fire was seen to be extending into the 8th floor so Pumps were made up to ten and additional Aerial Appliances were requested.
Up on the 7th Floor the Crew inside had actuated the Automatic Distress Signal Units (ADSU’s) two emergency Crews were sent in to rescue the team, one of the Firefighters had become disorientated and wandered back into the fire where he soon collapsed. His partner quickly located him and was able to drag him back toward the exit where they were rescues by the other teams. It is worthy of note that at this time the Firefighter who went to the aid of his stricken Brother was also suffering from severe heat exhaustion and had only been out of Training School for three weeks.
The Crew was removed to the Staging area on the 6th floor where their SCBA and turnouts were removed and water was given to them to assist in re-hydration and cooling, paramedics were summoned to the area and the Crews were removed, The first Firefighter was admitted to Intensive care with sever heat exhaustion and burns, his partner and saviour was also admitted for heat exhaustion but was released the following day. After a stay in hospital this Firefighter is well on the way to recovery while the other has returned to duty.
Unfortunately this period of rescue activity coincided with the withdrawal of the Crew from the 8th floor, the Crews that were scheduled to replace him were held up by the greater priority of assisting in the Rescue of the Crew in distress, this allowed the fire to auto extend unchallenged into the 8th floor via open windows.
Pumps were eventually made up to twenty with four Aerial Appliances. With the Duty Assistant Commissioner in overall command of the incident.
Fire eventually consumed the whole of the 7th to 10th Floors. 4 Aerial monitors and a high flow ground monitor used from the roof of an adjacent building assisted in controlling the fire on the lower floors while a valiant and successful effort by SCBA Crews eventually limited the spread of fire to10% of the 11th Floor by 02:00 hours the following morning. Over 150 Firefighters on more than 35 Appliances fought the battle through the night as Crews remained on the scene until well into the next day.
The missing person was found safe and well elsewhere and the fire is believed to have been started by faulty electrics. London Underground Limited working with the London Fire Brigade were able to put into place their Disaster recovery Programme. All personnel based within the building were relocated to other sites across the capital the following day.
Adapted from Source : FireTactics
Acknowledgement : Steve Dudeney LFB
In perhaps a final tragic irony, Telstar house was demolished in 2005, due to structural damage received during the fire. Although a number of firefighters received minor injuries during the incident, a demolition works contractor was (negligently) killed when removing acro-props from a concrete floor.