On Tuesday 4th February at 6:45am, a large fire was reported in a workshop of a garage workshop in Elms Road, Aldershot.
There was a tyre fitting and car repair workshop on the site of the fire and the fire quickly spread to neighbouring buildings. The dense smoke from the tyres filled the air around Aldershot, leaving many residents at serious risk from smoke inhalation.
It took 6o firefighters from three counties to bring the fire under control, including retained crews (volunteers) and about 60 people had to be evacuated from their homes.
The first responders on the scene were quick to call a `critical incident` which meant that the incident was major and would have a significant effect to the community, therefore requiring emergency plans to be implemented.
Incidents such as these will involve a huge amount of resources and one of the first things to take control of is the immediate area, to protect life.
It is vital to control traffic too, so that all emergency responders can have quick access to the area, as well as a quick exit, particularly in the case of ambulance vehicles, which may be need to leave quickly to take injured people to hospital – fortunately, the fire in Aldershot did not have any reported injuries.
A rendezvous point will be needed to position the many emergency vehicles, so the traffic plans will cater for this too.
Large incidents like this will have plans available which have been thought out and planned for well in advance. These plans will involve all emergency services, the local authority and voluntary organisations too.
Once they occur, the control room staff in the emergency services will refer to these plans and there are various people who will be called to attend, who will have specific functions.
In the case of this fire, it will be Hampshire Fire and Rescue Services who will have the task of bringing the fire under control. They will also be the lead organisation to establish the cause of the fire.
The police will have the responsibility to close roads and keep people safe through evacuation. They will work closely with the fire service to find out what caused the fire.
The local authority will attend and they will have designated receptions areas – these are places where evacuated people will be taken for shelter and for their well-being.
Emergency services will have designated commanders who will take control. In the case of Hampshire Constabulary on this occasion, it was Inspector Paul Plews.
It was Inspector Plew who I contacted when I heard that there were many residents who had become homeless. He said that many of these people were older Nepalese residents, who along with other residents, would need shelter.
At this early stage, efforts were being made to contact the local authority out of hours and as usual, members of the Nepali community can be relied upon to assist with short notice.
I phoned President Ram Dhan Rai of the Greater Rushmoor Nepalese Community for help, who was quick to arrange for someone to attend to open the Empire Building, which is large and familiar to many from the Nepalese community.
Events like these move at pace initially and Rushmoor Borough Council were on the scene quickly and the emergency plans meant that the Princes hall Theatre was opened to accommodate these who had to leave their homes.
President Rai remained involved, offering to attend the princes hall to assist with any communication, because being told to leave your home without knowing what will happen next is very worrying, so this offer was gratefully accepted to help re-assure elderly residents and thanks go to President rai for his offer of support.
Thick smoke will spread and it will enter homes, making them unsuitable for living in for a while, therefore the emergency plans will include alternative accommodation for people forced to leave their homes.
Media is very important too, where messages can be sent to people to keep them informed of the situation and to keep away from the area, so these is less congestion and potential danger. It will also send out messages of advice, such as closing windows.
It was fortunate that there were no injuries and this was perhaps down to the fact that the fire happened early in the morning, where people were not yet at work.
Emergency planning is essential at times like these and there will be many more plans that were used over this weekend where there was severe weather, involving flooding and requiring residents to be evacuated.
PC 1860 Mark Ranola.
Yateley Police Station.