New equipment inspired by deaths at Shirley Towers

Shirley Towers in Southampton the day after Alan Bannon and James Shears were killed. Photo: PA

A Hampshire firefighter who experienced the death of two colleagues while on duty has produced a lifesaving invention to prevent a similar tragedy occurring in the future.

Pete Broomfield was at Shirley Towers, Southampton, on April 6th 2010, when St Mary’s firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon lost their lives tackling a fire in a ninth-floor flat.

An inquest earlier this year heard that one of the key factors in the tragedy was fallen cables, which hampered attempts to escape from Flat 72 and the rescue operations.

Firefighter Broomfield began to formulate a special adaptation to prevent cables tangling themselves around the air cylinders on firefighters’ backs.

The strap has been incorporated into all of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s breathing apparatus sets and is now being deployed by other services around the country.

Ff Broomfield said: “I went into Shirley Towers when most of the smoke had gone but I was still getting caught up in cables even then.

“If you are trying to get away from heat and get tangled up in cables, you’ve pretty much had it. It was at that point I thought there had to be a way of stopping this happening.”

The Fareham firefighter, who is also retained at Hamble, carried out exhaustive research into whether other brigades in the UK and around the world had a solution but was surprised to find out there wasn’t.

He began working on a prototype with Shirley-based company So Easy and trialled them with his White Watch colleagues at Fareham station.

“We’d fill a training chamber with cables and try to battle through it,” said Ff Broomfield.

“It worked exactly as we hoped it would. One lad without the strap went through the chamber and got stuck in the cables, while a lad with the strap made it through.”

The strap creates a bridge between the air cylinder and the backplate of the BA set. With cables also having been implicated in the deaths of two firefighters at Harrow Court in Stevenage in 2005, it is hoped the simplicity of the design and its low cost will soon see all firefighters protected by the strap.

Ff Broomfield said: "Cables have been responsible for the deaths of firefighters and something as simple as this is a matter of pence to a brigade.

“If you are running away from heat to get through a door, it could be a matter of life or death - this strap will help you make it through that door."

Bob Ratcliffe, Assistant Chief Officer for Hampshire Fire and Rescue, said the strap was an important step in preventing similar tragedies.

He said: "As a service, we have been committed to learning from the events at Shirley Towers and sharing this to improve the safety of firefighters across the country.

"We encourage involvement and innovation from all our staff and Ff Broomfield's design is an inspiring example of this."