THE man in charge of the operation to tackle the horror high-rise blaze that claimed the lives of two firefighters has denied they were “forgotten about” on the night.
Group manager Tony Deacon told an inquest into the deaths of Alan Bannon and Jim Shears that he did not declare an emergency sooner because he was worried emotion would get the better of their colleagues and more lives could have been lost.
Southampton Coroner’s Court heard how the senior firefighter believed everything possible was being done to locate the missing St Mary’s crew members – codenamed Red Two – and tackle the severe fire raging in Flat 72 of Shirley Towers.
He denied claims from Martin Seaward, the barrister representing the families of Mr Shears, 35, and Mr Bannon, 38, that they fear a breathing apparatus (BA) emergency wasn’t declared sooner than it was, at 9.08pm, because there was not enough concern about their welfare.
Martin Seaward said: “[The families are concerned] how it was that Red Two seems to have been forgotten about over these critical minutes.
“They may be wrong and the evidence shows Red Two were being thought about all the time, but what appears to be unravelling at this inquest was that the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing, and there was a breakdown of communication of important facts and important and relevant information.”
Giving his evidence, Mr Deacon, who had more than two decades’ experience with the fire service at the time of the blaze on April 6, 2010, insisted there was no question that the safety of firefighters wasn’t being considered at any stage. He said conditions reported by the teams fighting the fire showed there was no more that could be achieved than was being done.
Mr Deacon said: “They were not forgotten.
“When you have your best firefighters try to advance and they cannot, that gives a very clear message – that they were doing everything they possible could to make headway.
“My hope, which is why I asked crew manager (Mark) Wood for the experience of Red Two, was that they were perhaps behind a door sheltering themselves from the immense chimney of heat and steam that we were creating.”
Mr Deacon said he made a conscious decision not to call a BA emergency because he didn’t want to further raise emotions, which were already high because they were fighting a fire involving people in the property known as “person reported” incidents.
The inquest has already heard an internal Hampshire Fire service report concluded an emergency should have been declared 22 minutes earlier than it was.
He said: “When I’ve been to person reported involving children that adrenaline goes a little bit higher. More risks get taken and more things forgotten.
“I’m in a fire floor with people whose best friend is in trouble.
“That’s a bond of friendship that’s more intimate than probably most relationships.
“Sometimes I’m required to make tough decisions.
“I assessed that if I had called a BA emergency at that time further officers would have lost their lives.”
Mr Seaward asked Mr Deacon if that was an admission he “didn’t trust the colleagues of those firefighters to behave appropriately”.
The group manager admitted having “concerns about emotions on the floor that night”, but insisted the crews in place were doing all they could to ease conditions and locate the missing men, and because of the cramped conditions additional teams would not have been able to get any further into the flat itself. But he said he still stands by his decision not to declare an emergency.