Firefighters recount tackling fatal blaze at Gibson Court

Surrey Comet: Fire: Crew were initially unaware the fire had spread to the roof Fire: Crew were initially unaware the fire had spread to the roof

Firefighters were not told of a second emergency call made by another resident, after a fatal fire broke out at a Hinchley Wood retirement home, an inquest heard.

At the second day of the inquest of Irene Cockerton, 87, who died after a fire at Gibson Court in the early hours of September 30, 2011, firefighters told the court their course of action would have been different if they had known a resident on the other side of the property had complained of smoke in her room.

Robin Williams, green watch manager at Esher fire station, described seeing “wisps of smoke” at the door to flat 25, where the fire started, and as crew members entered the flat to tackle the blaze he began a “360 view” of the property.

He said: “I started to do that and I noticed when I got round there the window had gone from flat 25 and fire was coming out.

“I had two crew inside and two outside so I had sectored this fire already. There is no sign at that stage that it had got any worse than in the flat.”

The court also heard firefighters entered the flat next door to flat 25, and said no smoke or fire had made its way there.

Matt Sparrow, Esher green watch crew manager, told the court the crew extinguished the fire in flat 25.

He said: “It was at that point we heard a crashing noise above our head and that was when we got an evacuation message from our radio.

“I remember looking at my breathing apparatus partner to say ‘what is that?’ There was a lot of thick black smoke.

“Because the room next door was clear, we just thought the fire had been dealt with.”

But Mr Williams told the court he received a radio message saying the fire had spread in to the roof and, as a result, an evacuation of the building began.

Firefighters were told to get out of the building and bring any residents they passed to safety, with crew telling the court they knocked on doors and helped people out as they left.

Coroner Richard Travers asked Mr Williams if he, at the time, had been made aware that a resident on the other side of the building had called Careline to report smoke in her flat, but Mr Williams said he had not.

Mr Travers said: “Had you have known that someone living on the top of the ‘H’ had been complaining of smoke in her flat at an earlier stage, would that have been of concern?”

Mr Williams replied “most definitely” and said it would have changed the plan of action, with an evacuation started earlier.

Mr Williams also told the court he was not provided with a list of residents’ names and flat numbers to aid the evacuation process until he asked for it, by which point it was deemed too dangerous to enter certain parts of the building. Firefighter Andrew Morgan also told the inquest he remembered seeing elderly residents at their windows as thick black smoke came “billowing” out of the roof.

Mr Morgan said: “The fire at this point had broken through the roof and it had rapidly started to spread along the roof within minutes.”

The inquest continues.

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