Fire bosses admitted an emergency should have been declared much quicker after they lost contact with two firefighters who died tackling a tower block blaze, an inquest heard.
For the first time, findings from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s own investigation into the deaths of Alan Bannon and James Shears were revealed yesterday, which told how the alarm should have been raised 22 minutes before it was.
The Red Watch colleagues from St Mary’s fire station, who had entered the ninth floor flat of Shirley Towers at 8.36pm along with colleagues Liam Ryan and Keith Holland, could not be raised by radio.
Ten minutes later, as the temperature soared, the latter pair managed to get out – Mr Ryan having suffered severe burns to his hands and clearly in a distressed state, jurors have been told.
But when Mr Shears, 35, and Mr Bannon, 38, failed to appear a breathing apparatus (BA) emergency should have been declared, the report says.
It concluded: “Procedures indicate this should have led to the initiation of a BA emergency.”
The report went on to say how a second opportunity was also not taken at 9.01pm when Mr Shears and Mr Bannon failed to return, even though their breathing apparatus would have sounded a whistle to warn them to get out.
The emergency was eventually declared at 9.08pm by the watch manager.
However fire chiefs believe that even if it had been activated earlier the two men could not have been rescued because of the extreme heat.
However that was not accepted by the families of Mr Bannon and Mr Shears, according to their barrister Martin Seaward, who said: “It is not conceded that it would not have made a difference.”
Earlier, after hearing about “huge problems” with communications inside the tower block on the night, Mr Seaward said the families feared several lost chances to realise Mr Shears, of Poole, and Mr Bannon, of Bitterne, Southampton, were in serious difficulties.
He said: “From the families’ perspective, it rather looks as though there were warning signs that something was going wrong which were overlooked that night.”
Redbridge Hill firefighter Rebecca Bryant, whose job was to keep tabs on which teams were where, said she had not received messages from Mr Shears requesting help with a hose, or heard a later warning from Mr Holland that Flat 72 was a “death-trap”.
She said she also had no idea an upstairs fire escape was being used as an entry or exit point for the apartment, and had been given no feedback about the severity of the fire and conditions in the flat.
She background noise from the fire and people around her, as well as interference from the thick concrete walls made it very hard to hear the radio, which was the first time she had ever experienced such problems.