No sprinklers in car park inferno

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‘CLEARLY the fact that there were no sprinklers had its affect,’ Chief Fire Officer of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, Dan Stephens said yesterday.

He was speaking in the wake of an inferno which engulfed a multi-storey car park in Liverpool on New Year’s Eve. The fire in King’s Dock – next to the Liverpool Echo Arena destroyed all 1,400 cars parked there, as each one became a petrol bomb, igniting neighbouring cars.

The car park was surrounded by blocks of flats which had to be evacuated. Over 80 horses temporarily stabled in the basement also had to be evacuated. It was good fortune and the extremely rapid response of the fire service which prevented injury and death.

The venue was forced to cancel the Liverpool International Horse Show and hundreds were left stranded overnight as many had parked their cars in the car park. Fire chief Stephens emphasised the lack of fire safety measures that were in place.

He said: ‘We would always advocate the use of sprinklers. Had sprinklers been fitted then that may well have suppressed the fire and given us the opportunity to be able to deal with that fire when we had sufficient water, sufficient flow rate to deal with the heat release which was coming from the vehicles involved at the time.

‘As you can see, the car park is open to the elements, it is well ventilated, winter fires are very, very difficult to deal with. Our first responder teams acted very quickly to make an internal attack on the fire, that gave people the opportunity to evacuate.

‘When it was clear to us that we were not going to be able to contain the fire to the second level, we commenced an evacuation of the Liverpool Echo Arena. The Equestrian event had about 4,000 people at that time as well as the horses. That evacuation was conducted successfully by the organisers in conjunction with the police, who then evacuated all the flats that surround the car park. So that was decisive and that rapid action greatly reduced the possibility of injuries.’

Stephen McKenzie independent fire safety consultant said: ‘It is a miracle that no one was injured. The amount of fuel load associated with each car, packed so closely together was immense. It is the perfect storm, where we have a car park at maximum capacity for a local event, with the fire spreading from one car, to the next, to the next. We have over 22,000 fires a year in car parks. This is a broken system in need in urgent review.

‘There is a worrying occurrence, quick on the back of the Manchester tower block fire, the New York High rise fire fatalities and the Grenfell Tower block fire with the tragic loss of 71 persons. So I think 2018 very much needs to have fire safety firmly on everyone’s agenda.”

The fire in the 12-storey apartment building in central Manchester happened on Saturday. Firefighters said that the fire was able to spread across three floors because the balconies were made of wood. Twelve fire crews were called to tackle the blaze on the upper floors of the building in Joiner Street, inside the city’s Northern Quarter, just after 4pm on Saturday. The building was safely evacuated with one person, a 23-year old, taken to hospital for checks after inhaling smoke.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said the fire had crept up the side of the building from the ninth floor as external balconies caught alight. It added that no external cladding was blamed for rapidly spreading the flames as was the case in the Grenfell tragedy last June.