Shock at “dramatic” response to Heartsease flat fire

Burleigh Tower, Heartsease, resident Thomas Hall, 24, had to call the fire brigade out to his 9th fl

Burleigh Tower, Heartsease, resident Thomas Hall, 24, had to call the fire brigade out to his 9th floor flat after his cooker caught fire.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

A small cooker fire on the ninth floor of a Heartsease tower block prompted a 'dramatic' and 'aggressive' response from dozens of firefighters to prevent a disaster.

After Thomas Hall had left the cooker on by mistake at the top of Burleigh Tower on Saturday evening, six fire crews from across the county rushed into action.

Call handlers guided Mr Hall as help arrived, and the foot-high flames were all but extinguished by the time the crews arrived.

'I have never seen that many fire engines in my life,' said Mr Hall. 'It was a dramatic response.'

The 24-year-old had been cleaning his cooker and left a wet cloth on the hob before going to watch television. When he returned to the kitchen, flames were licking the wall.

'I tried putting it out myself with water, but that only made the flames bigger,' he said. 'It was quite scary.

'Then one fire engine turned up, then another and an ambulance and a big aerial platform. Then more kept turning up.'

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Crews arrived from Wroxham and Loddon, and teams based at Dereham and Great Yarmouth were alerted to provide cover for the displaced crews. A total of 36 firefighters descended on the tower block. 'Apparently they have to send a minimum number of fire engines to a fire in a flat,' added Mr Hall. 'More had been on the way but were stood down.

'I was told to open the window and it managed to partially put itself out. Some ash had wet it down.'

Ventilation fans were used to clear the smoke for around an hour before crews left the scene.

Chief fire officer Roy Harold said the incident had been a perfect opportunity to drill his teams to respond to a more serious incident.

'We plan for the worst and hope for the best,' he said. 'Blocks of flats are designed to stop the spread of smoke and fire, but we try to hit it hard and fast.

'If you think of a tower block as a vertical village you need to send not just the attendance you would for an ordinary fire in a house, but you need the same number again to shift the equipment, and more still to pump water up to the ninth floor.

'You almost have to double the resources, and back fill the resources that have been displaced to provide cover.

'Here in Norfolk fire crews sadly get a lot of experience with car crashes, but not with flat fires. This was a good opportunity to dust off our practice and get them up to speed.

'It was an aggressive attack, and the crews did not hang back so it was put out while it was still small. If you can hit it hard and fast you can stop it growing, otherwise it can get away from you.

'If that happens you have a whole community of around 100 to 200 people who have to be moved out.'

Mr Hall added he will be cooking in the microwave for the next few days.

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