The government never fails to remind establishments about the importance of following fire safety codes, including putting up clear and understandable fire exit signs in the UK. There’s a good reason why. The country has experienced some of the worst disasters because of inadequate fire management regulations.
A Fight with Fire
On 11 May 1985, the Valley Parade Stadium in Bradford filled to the brim with spectators. Lincoln City and the hometown players were on the field. While most of the people watched, one man smoked a cigarette.
Unfortunately, when he was about to put out the light, he accidentally dropped it into the floorboards where piles of rubbish accumulated into the cavity. It didn’t take long for the fire to begin. Within a few minutes before half-time, flames engulfed the wooden materials used to make the roof and the floorboards. The strong winds worsened the condition, alighting a significant portion of the stadium in minutes.
People rushed to get outside. Many tried to hide in the bathroom while others went to the nearby fire escapes, which were locked. There were countless who headed to the turnstiles only to succumb to the smoke and fire. These, too, were closed. In the end, 56 people died. Two of them perished while they were still on their seats. The tragedy was a wakeup call.
Following the investigation, significant structural changes happened in football grounds. These included the conditional use of wood and non-smoking rules. But then again, do you ever think about what could have happened if those people had been able to open the fire escapes and pass through the turnstiles?
Huddersfield’s in Memoriam
More than 30 before the Bradford stadium fire, there was a fire incident that killed more than 45 people, especially women and teenaged girls. It happened in Huddersfield.
Huddersfield is home to H Booth and Sons Limited, which manufactured clothing at that time. Their office was a converted warehouse standing five stories high. It’s a building a person could never miss. On 31 October 1941, one of the workers went in, perhaps leaving his raincoat pocket somewhere while they started work. Inside the pocket, however, was a pipe, still lit.
Whether he forgot to extinguish it entirely or not, one thing was sure: a massive fire broke out. The buildings, mostly made of wood, bowed down to the heat and flames. The cardboards and papers strewn about worked as kindling. Employees who worked on the fifth floor could hardly survive the inferno. It didn’t have a fire escape.
In 2012, the city honored those who perished and saved lives with a memorial. These people didn’t die in vain, they said. True enough, after the blaze, buildings became more aware of the fire safety regulations.
The UK has accomplished a lot when it comes to fire safety over the last years. According to national statistics, the fire incidents that occurred from 2017 and 2018 were a 43% decrease compared to a decade ago. Still, there’s no room to be complacent. Within the same period, the Fire and Rescue Services attended to more than 167,000 of these fire incidents. Fires can kill lives, but you can do something about it, beginning with following the safety rules.