A resident who witnessed the devastating Hoole house fire that claimed a man’s life is calling for a review into the accessibility of fire hydrants in the area.
Michael Austin, a Merchant Navy officer who is trained in fighting fires, wrote to The Chronicle to express a number of safety concerns he noted following the huge blaze at a house in Phillip Street on Good Friday night.
Recalling the third serious fire in Hoole in the past 22 years, Mr Austin praised the emergency services for arriving on the scene quickly and for showing ‘great professionalism’.
But he claims the fire service was hindered for at least 20 minutes as they struggled to find fire hydrants to pump water onto the fire.
“My housemate and I helped the fire brigade look for hydrants, and it was my housemate who found one on Lightfoot Street, which they used to provide two jets of water, one fighting the fire from Philip Street, the other one from Tomkinson Street,” said Mr Austin.
“It took an age for the firefighters to find and set up street fire hydrants for fire hoses and when I asked what one looked like, I was told it was a square metal marking which are very difficult to spot at night time, and can be during the day too if parked cars obscure the view.
“It is my view that hydrants should be distinctly marked - if they were painted yellow it would help them stand out so residents would know to assist the fire brigade with local knowledge,” he added.
Mr Austin said he thinks there is also an issue regarding the amount of fire hydrants that are available, and the location of those that are, claiming the number of them appeared to be ‘thinly spread’.
“I feel a review needs to take place as how many fire hydrants there are available in Hoole, and if this is sufficient,” he said. “A resident told me they had a similar problem in the Pickfords' Warehouse fire of 1996, when the firefighters had to use water from the canal, quite a distance away.
“In Thomas Brassey Close, there is only one hydrant for the whole complex. If that hydrant was somehow put out of action, then the Fire Brigade could waste valuable time looking for another one.
“Another hydrant was located in a car parking berth which could well have had a car parked over it,” added Mr Austin. “Fire hydrants should be distinctive, accessible and ready for immediate use, so a review must be made to assess this. At the moment there is nothing to stop cars being parked over fire hydrants.
“In my work we are trained to fight fires at Merchant Navy colleges by local fire brigades, and everyone in my company has also completed a fire-fighting course. We also hold regular fire drills to help us prepare for the real thing, so I realise how important fire safety is, and can see when things are going wrong.
“This is Hoole’s third major fire in 22 years, and after the events of Grenfell, a review must be made on fire hydrants’ availability, their number, location and distinctive identification,” said Mr Austin.
A Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “As with all fatal fires, a full post incident investigation will be taking place in partnership with Cheshire Police.
“The investigation will aim to establish the cause of the fire along with any relevant learning for future incidents. Therefore it would be inappropriate to comment further until this investigation has been completed.”
An elderly lady evacuated from her Phillip Street home following the fire was given a bed for the night by a kind-hearted worker from a Chester care company.
Debbie Leigh, managing director for Cheshire Homecare Services Ltd, helped fire crews evacuate the pensioner from her home after police woke her up by banging on her door.
Since all Phillip Street residents were not allowed to return to their homes that night and the elderly woman has no friends or family, Debbie invited her to spend the night at her own house.
One of Debbie’s colleagues said: “It shows that carers and care companies go the extra mile.”