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Shirley Towers inquest: Firefighter describes 'death trap' flat

  • 6-22-2012

A firefighter has described the conditions inside a burning Southampton flat in which two of his colleagues died as a "death trap".

Keith Holland and his colleague Liam Ryan just managed to get out of Flat 72 in Shirley Towers on 6 April 2010 after a sudden massive rise in temperature.

Fellow firefighters Jim Shears and Alan Bannon did not.

Mr Holland told an inquest into their deaths that thick, black smoke inside the flat made it impossible to see.

Southampton Coroners Court heard the fire service took a 999 call just after 20:00 BST and Mr Holland was on the first fire truck to arrive.

He told the court he and colleague Liam Ryan waited outside the flat in breathing apparatus until they had sight of a second team, Mr Shears and Mr Bannon, down the corridor before entering.

They had to rely on touch and hearing to find their way around, but saw no flames on the first level near the lounge.

They continued up some stairs towards the bathroom, then up further stairs towards the bedrooms, where he opened the windows.

Unable to locate the fire, they turned to go back down the stairs where they met Mr Shears and Mr Bannon.

Mr Holland told the court: "We were going down when Jim shouted up 'I can't get down'.

"We felt it by then, and that was when it all started to kick off."

At that point, the inquest heard, there was a sudden, massive escalation in temperature inside the flat.

Caught in cables

Mr Holland described it as "steam" which could be felt everywhere: "It doesn't stop at your gloves or jacket, it just keeps going until it gets to your skin."

Then he heard one of the others asking Mr Shears: "What do you mean you can't get down? Just get down.

He said Mr Shears replied: "I can't it's just too hot."

Mr Holland said he saw cables hanging down from the ceiling and got down to the bathroom to try to escape the heat.

He told the court: "That was the time I knew we had to get out.

"I remember going up the stairs under the cables again, I had Liam screaming that he was in pain and had to get out, he's hot. I don't remember hearing the other two.

"I got down on my hands and knees and curled up into a ball, I was trying to get my thoughts together, I was starting to feel it.

"I've got down and got hold of Liam, I've still got him shouting and screaming. I just managed to gain a few seconds to gather my thoughts."

Despite being caught in a cable, Mr Holland managed to push open a fire exit at the top of the stairs to a corridor and then rescued his partner who was caught in the cables.

"I remember sticking my head back in and just shouting 'come on lads, up this way, get up this way'. There was nothing," he said.

"I thought perhaps they had gone down the stairs and managed to get round the corner and out.

"I remember saying [when I got out] do not put anyone in there, it is a death trap. Cables are down, you can't see."

It was not until later that Mr Holland found out his colleagues had died.

The court heard that 999 call handlers had been told the fire was in the lounge, but Mr Holland said this information was not passed on to him.

Martin Seaward, representing the Bannon and Shears families, asked whether if he had known this, he might have searched the kitchen and lounge first.

Mr Holland said: "Yeah."

Father-of-two Mr Shears, 35, was from Poole, Dorset, and had been a firefighter for seven years.

Mr Bannon, 38, of Southampton, had been a fireman for eight-and-a-half years and had one child.

The inquest continues.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2012 BBC

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