Fire chief explains how crews tackled Peterborough Hotpoint blaze after receiving 200 calls from public
Even with 29 years experience Karl Bowden had not seen many bigger fires than the one at the Hotpoint trailer park last Thursday evening.
So big in fact, that as the group commander rushed from Chatteris to Woodston he could see the smoke from miles away.
Some of the initial 200-odd calls to the Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service control room reporting the blaze had led to the belief the company’s factory was on fire, but even though this proved to be false it did not daunt a man who could rely on his decades of training and experience.
“I could see the smoke from the moment I got outside of Chatteris,” he said.
“Even in the car I’m thinking about public safety then how the fire will be tackled. Where is the fire going? Is it going to other properties?
“When I arrived I knew quickly nobody was involved. That was the first question. There were big lorry tyres which can pop off the rims when hot with some force. Those were the explosions people heard.”
A group commander must attend an incident requiring at least five fire engines - the one on Thursday required nine, as well as four water carriers, a high volume pump and a command unit.
“I have to think of the impact on the area and if I need to close roads,” explained Group Commander Bowden. “I have to talk to partners - police, ambulance, council and Environment Agency. What concerns have they got and what can they do to help?
“I have to develop a working strategy and make sure we have enough water and make sure it will not go in the drains and pollute the river.
“We’re also under a lot of pressure to make sure the public and staff are safe. I’m thinking what messages we need to get out there, the impact if we close the roads.
“We go through the sequence of plan, do, review. My experience and training kicks in and I think through the processes we need to go through.”
Within a few minutes he was able to formulate a plan while taking into account everything from wind direction to which direction the trailer tyres might go off and where the water should be targeted.
The plan, thankfully, works. Despite being “one of the biggest” fires the commander has seen it is extinguished by midnight, with crews later returning to inspect the scene then carry out a fire investigation.