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Fire chief praises public over shopping centre evacuation
2:35pm Wednesday 18th September 2013 in News
A SENIOR fire commander has praised the public's response to the unfolding gas leak at a Hampshire store.
Mark Larrimore, station commander for Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service, who attended the incident, said the actions of staff and customers at the Hedge End and Sainsbury's stores in Tollbar Way, Hedge End had made the job of the emergency services easier.
He said once they had cleared the danger to the public by evacuating the store, the fire service was able to concentrate on what was causing the leak.
The fire service has said the gas leak was carbon dioxide that came from a freezer containing frozen food in the Sainsbury's store.
The alarm was raised when people inside started feeling unwell.
Mr Larrimore said carbon dioxide though not toxic is an asphyxiant that interrupts the breathing because it reduces the oxygen.
He told how engineers for Sainsbury's had helped identify what the problem was after detecting a loss of pressure in their refrigerant system through the store's own remote monitoring centre.
Engineers had to go on the roof of the store where the both the refrigeration system and ventilation systems are.
The leakage, he believed, was in the area near the cheese counter, though Sainsbury's have said they are still investigating what happened, including the cause and source of the problem.
He also told how two teams of firefighters had initially gone into the store in breathing apparatus due to two separate concerns.
One team was in Marks and Spencer because the fire alarm was going and they wanted to check why - it turned out someone had broken the emergency glass.
However, another team went into Sainsbury's when they were told that a member of staff in their hurry to exit the store had left a panini on the grill in the cafe, so they went to deal with it to prevent any further problems.
Once the substance and source of the leak was confirmed, firefighters were able to go in again with detectors and swept the whole store but found it was clear.
Mr Larrimore said it was not known how the substance had stopped leaking, but because the store was large and the doors were open the carbon dioxide had cleared naturally.
Once they were sure that there was no continuing leak and that the store was safe for the public, they handed the situation back to the store and its engineers to investigate.
He said beyond the usual regular checks, the fire service would not be returning to the store, but there would be a meeting with the store and all emergency services to debrief on how they had handled the major incident.
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