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July 25, 2005


(Photos: BBC web site)

By Vinny Del Giudice

London's firefighters had been planning and practicing for the worst since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in Manhattan and the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia.

The bells ``went down'' starting at about 9 a.m. on July 7, 2005 for bombings on the London Underground and one of the city's famed red ``double-deck'' buses. The brigade's ``blue watch'' was coming on duty.

The London Fire Brigade announced the news in a brief statement about 40 minutes later:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at Edgware Road and Aldgate underground stations. Emergency services are at the scene and further information will be given as soon as it becomes available.

Another statement at 10:10 a.m. told of further blasts:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at a number of locations.

Very early reports had suggested that the explosions were caused by a power surge on the rail system. But after the bus blast, it became clear that that London had suffered its worst bombing since World War II with many dead and injured.

At 12:30 p.m., the fire brigade reported:

London Fire Brigade has been called to reports of explosions at Aldgate, Edgware Road and King's Cross London Transport Stations and Tavistock Square this morning.

Fire cover for the rest of London is being maintained but we would ask the public to only call us for confirmed fires or life threatening incidents.
The death toll, as of July 18, was 56, including the four bombers.

The London Ambulance Service said its crews ``treated approximately 45 people for critical and serious injuries, and a further 350 for minor injuries. Many other patients will have made their own way to hospital for treatment.'' The fire brigade said: ``Several of our new specialist fire rescue units were deployed to work with the other emergency services to evacuate casualties.''

Crime investigation

The July 7 attacks occurred between the Aldgate and Liverpool Street ``tube'' stations , between the King's Cross and Russell Square stations, at the Edgware Road station and on the No. 30 bus at Tavistock Square, according to the BBC. All the sites are located near the financial district, known as ``The City.''

Closed circuit television recordings revealed four suspects arrived by train at the King's Cross Station before fanning out into the transit system. The New York Times said: ``The bombers began their murderous journey from the northern city of Leeds.''

The bombers were identified as Shehzad Tanweer, 22, linked to the Aldgate blast; Mohammad Sidique Khan, 30, linked to the Edgware Road blast site; Hasib Mir Hussain, 18, linked to the bus attack; Germaine Lindsay, linked to the King's Cross attack. Tanweer, Khan and Hussain were born in the United Kingdom. Lindsay was born in Jamaica.

A police source told the Daily Mirror newspaper: "They are dressed in casual clothes with big rucksacks on their backs and look for all the world like four men off on a backpacking holiday, instead of four mass murderers on the last leg of their deadly mission."

Fire response

About 200 London firefighters responded to the bombings.

``Twelve fire appliances with 60 firefighters attended the incident at Edgware Road, twelve fire appliances with 60 firefighters attended the incident at King's Cross, ten fire appliances with 50 firefighters attended the Aldgate incident and four fire appliances with 20 firefighters were called to Tavistock Square,'' the fire brigade reported on its web site.

The web site of the Poplar Fire Station - F22 - said:

Crews from Poplar were involved in the Rescue Operation at the Train Blast at Aldgate Station. Our thoughts and Prayers at this time are with the victims of this Outrage. London is a City with a Rich and Powerful History, we will never cave in to the faceless cowards who try to destroy our way of life.

By most accounts, the fire brigade's response went according to plan.

Prime Minister Tony Blair applauded the emergency response in Parliament on July 13.

London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ken Knight praised his troops.

"Firefighters, control staff and support staff were all magnificent in the aftermath of the bombings, as the people of London would expect,'' Knight said. ``I am sure their professional response made a crucial difference to the people who were injured or trapped."

And yet, as in any incident, there were lessons to be learned.

Radio communications on July 7 presented a problem for firefighters, much like at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001 The fire brigade's 70 Megahertz two-radio system has very limited range below ground, and commercial cell phone networks were overloaded.

The Fire Brigades Union - which had staged a series of strikes over a fire brigade modernization plan - expressed concern about fire brigade staffing. ``We were very seriously stretched by these awful attacks,'' Andy Dark, regional secretary of the union, said in a press release. He cited the closure of the Manchester Square fire station in central London and the redeployment of 10 engines from central London stations to the suburbs.

`Amazing sense of courage'

Parish priest Nicholas Wheeler, who ministered to the injured - as well as the rescuers - at King's Cross, praised the first responders. ``Many of the firemen and police were very young, and it was their first experience with something so horrific," said Wheeler, quoted by The New York Times. "They went down with an amazing sense of courage and came up having seen things you would not wish anyone to see."

Newspaper photos showed bystanders pitched in to help the walking wounded, with one photo becoming ``one of the defining images of last week's atrocity, encapsulating the horror and the heroism of a city plunged into terror,'' according to The Observer newspaper.

The Observer continued:

Ex-fireman, 28-year-old Paul Dadge, clearly frightened but determined to help, holding on to a bloodied and barefoot woman, her burnt face covered with a large white mask, her hair singed.

Haunted by his contact with the distraught young woman, Dadge returned to King's Cross on Friday to search for her, but to no avail. 'I just wanted to find her and see if she was OK,' he said. 'If she had been here I would have said: "You were so brave".'

(On July 9) his search ended in relief when the young woman, known only as Davinia, was tracked to a London burns unit where she was said to be in a serious but stable condition.

Mr Dadge had spotted Davinia standing alone on a street corner after she escaped the blast. 'She was really brave,' he said. 'A lot of people were complaining about their burns, but she didn't.

The attacks lent momentum to a safety campaign launched in May encouraging British commuters to store emergency contacts, such as next of kin, on their cell phones. British paramedic Bob Brotchie is credited with starting the ICE - "In Case of Emergency" - program to help first responders identify victims of accidents and disasters.

``Users are being urged to enter a number in their phone's memory under the heading ICE - In Case of Emergency,'' the BBC reported. ``Paramedics or police would then be able to use it to contact a relative.''

`Hell on earth'

Relief fire crews provided assistance for the intensive police investigation in the days following the blasts, including the recovery of bodies in the Piccadilly Line tunnel between Russell Square and King's Cross - scene of the worst carnage. The Mirror newspaper reported that ``firemen with experience of `burn patterns' established the bomb was on the floor by the doors in the first carriage'' at that deadly blast.

Of the survivors,``Many of the most severely injured people either walked or had to be carried half a mile along the tracks to Russell Square station. King’s Cross station was much closer but they could not get back past the wreckage,'' The Times newspaper reported.

Rescue workers toiled ``alongside forensic experts from Scotland Yard ... desperately hunting for clues about the type of explosives used in the bombs and the identity of the bombers,'' according to The Independent newspaper.

The BBC reported:

Emergency teams are dealing with horrific scenes as they recover bodies from the mangled wreckage of a Tube train near King's Cross station.

Teams face intense heat of up to 60C (about 140F), fumes, vermin, asbestos and initially concern the tunnel might collapse.

"I can't say what it's like or explain it, but it's carnage,'' said firefighter Arrol Thomas.

Recovery teams are working in dangerous and cramped conditions 70ft (21.3m) underground in a three-and-a-half metre wide tunnel only a little larger than the train itself.

BBC correspondent Mark Simpson, at King's Cross station, described the operation below ground as "a gruesome task".

Initial fears the tunnel might be in danger of collapsing have now passed but conditions below ground remained "atrocious" he said.

He said: "One rescue worker described it as 'hell on earth'."

Battle tested

London is no stranger to war and terror, having been target of Irish Republican Army bombings, the German ``blitz'' and rocket attacks of World War II and Zeppelin raids in World War I. The city has also had its share of rail accidents and other emergencies.

"London, sadly, has come through a series of events, whether they be terrorist attacks or genuine accidents, which have meant we have been able to refine and refine again the procedures," Malcolm Kelly, an assistant fire commissioner, told the BBC. Kelly served as incident commander at the Edgware Road station on July 7.

Today's London Fire Brigade provides fire and rescue services from more than 100 stations across the city. Emergency medical services are provided by a separate agency, the London Ambulance Service.

The fire brigade's typical response to alarms - British firefighters call them ``Shouts'' - in densely populated area of the city would be two fire engines within five minutes and a third engine within eight minutes.

Each ``appliance'' is typically staffed by four or five firefighters. The station officer on the first arriving engine typically assumes incident command. Mundane calls are the rule.``In London, more than a third of accidental fires in the home start in the kitchen – and nearly all involve the cooker,'' according to the fire brigade.

London's brigade also fields special units, including fire rescue units, turntable ladders, aerial platforms and a mobile command post.

Just this year, the number of fire rescue units was doubled to 10. The heavy-duty vehicles are placed stragetically around London to ensure that, on average, they can reach an incident within 15 minutes, according to the fire brigade's web site. One of the rescues is located at the Euston fire station, just down the road from King's Cross.

``Specialist crews on the new rescue units will be trained and equipped to handle complex rescues, including rescues from road and rail accidents, water, mud and ice, urban search and rescue incidents (such as collapsed buildings), chemical spills and for difficult rescues involving the use of ropes and lines,'' the brigade said.

Training is paramount. On Sept. 7, 2003, for example, the fire brigade and other emergency services staged a large-scale exercise at the Bank tube station in the old City of London. The scenario was for a chemical attack with mass casualties. The Bank station is located close to the scene of the July 7 attacks.

The London Underground, itself, traces its history to 1863 when the world's first subway opened in London, according to the Transport for London web site. Today, London Underground serves 275 stations and carries an average of more than 3 million ``passenger journeys'' a day. At peak hours, as many as 500 trains are operating over the 253-mile (408 kilometer) system.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone commended the city's emergency services for their preparation and response to the July 7 attacks, saying:

Following the al-Qaeda attacks on September 11th in America we conducted a series of exercises in London in order to be prepared for just such an attack. One of the exercises undertaken by the government, my office and the emergency and security services was based on the possibility of multiple explosions on the transport system during the Friday rush hour. The plan that came out of that exercise is being executed today, with remarkable efficiency and courage, and I praise those staff who are involved.

Firefighter's account

The web site for the Guardian and Observer newspapers published the eyewitness account of Terence Adams, a divisional commander in the London Fire Brigade, at King's Cross station. Adams climbed down into the tunnel to help bring out the casualties.

Said Adams:

'The effect of a blast is like a thunder clap or a very loud firework and that can numb your thoughts for a while. We knew that the difficulty we were going to have was managing people and getting them to the surface.

Getting people out of the train was difficult, it was a matter of getting them out by hand or torchlight but it was difficult to even see them: there wasn't smoke as such but a very, very fine dust which really reduced visibility.'

It was pretty chaotic at first, as you would expect. There were blast injuries and a lot of people were traumatised.

'Paramedics and Network Rail staff were helping people and providing first aid. The hundreds of people who were pouring out of the tube were in obvious shock and looked completely confused.

I'm trying not to dwell on the trauma of the events, though: this is our role and I accept that that's what we're there for.'

Survivor's account

A woman identified only as Rachel from North London provided the BBC with her account of the disaster on the Picadilly Line train between King's Cross and Russell Square. She was in the first car of the train - where the bomb was detonated, killing about two dozen of her fellow passengers. Rachel boarded the train prior to King's Cross.

Her story:

I was in the first carriage, behind the driver's carriage, standing by the doors - it was absolutely packed.

Even more people got on at Kings Cross. It felt like the most crowded train ever.

Then, as we left Kings Cross, at about 8.55am, there was an almighty bang. Everything went totally black and clouds of choking smoke filled the Tube carriage and I thought I had been blinded. It was so dark that nobody could see anything.

I thought I was about to die, or was dead. I was choking from the smoke and felt like I was drowning.

Air started to flood in through the smashed glass and the emergency lighting helped us see a bit. We were OK.

A terrible screaming followed the initial silence.

We tried to stop ourselves from panicking by talking to each other and listening to the driver who started talking to us.

There was screaming and groaning but we calmed each other and tried to listen to the driver.

He told us he was going to take the train forward a little so he could get us out, after he had made sure the track wasn't live.

We all passed the message into the darkness behind us, down the train.

After about 20 to 30 minutes we started to leave the train.

We were choking and trying not to panic because we knew that would mean curtains.

We tried to keep each other calm, I remember saying: "If anyone's boss gives them grief for being late, we know what to say to them, eh, girls?"

`Pray they died quickly'

The Telegraph newspaper reported that the fire brigade, ambulance service and the police ``faced horrendous physical, psychological and logistical difficulties'' and that the ``grim nature of the work took its toll.''

The report also said:

Some workers were given counselling because they were unable to cope with the scenes that confronted them.

"It was like the Towering Inferno down there," one experienced rescuer said. "I've seen some shocking things but nothing as bad as this.

"There were people with limbs missing and their organs spilling out. We can only pray that they died quickly.

"The heat was almost unbearable. It was dark and dusty but we are doing everything we can to make sure no clues are lost."

The rescue effort was also hampered by the presence of rats scurrying over the wreckage and gnawing at the victims' decomposing bodies. "It was pretty disgusting," said one rescuer. "The terrible smell was making us gag."

The tunnel on that stretch of the Piccadilly Line is barely wider than the train, so the workers were unable to go along the side of - or even on top of - the train and instead had to cut through the coaches.

Moorgate - 1975

The recovery effort at Russell Square recalled an underground disaster three decades earlier, when a Northern Line train careened past the Moorgate station and into a dead end tunnel on Feb. 28,1975.

According to veteran London firefighter Neil Wallington's book ``Great Fires of London:"

Forty-two passengers were killed but many more were trapped in the crumpled carriages inside the tunnel. The last live casualty was released after some twelve hours, but the recovery of the bodies took a further five days and nights and involved 1,000 workers firefighters working in short shifts because of the heat and fetid condition deep into the tunnel.

London firefighters wriggled past the real carriages to get the casualties and ``rescue teams were forced to wear breathing apparatus because of deteriorating air quality,'' Wallington wrote.

Gerard Kemp of the Daily Telegraph, the only journalist allowed to visit the site, reported:

"It was a horrible mess of limbs and mangled iron."

"One of the great problems (for the fire brigade) was the intense heat down there. It must have been 120 degrees. It was like opening the door of an oven."

The cause of the Moorgate disaster remains a mystery.

Kings Cross - 1987

Disaster also visited the Kings Cross station on Nov. 18, 1987 when a flash fire engulfed an old wooden escalator serving the Picadilly Line. About 30 people perished in that disaster including a rescuer, Colin Townsley, station officer from the Soho Fire Station in central London.

According to the BBC:

The blaze reportedly began at about 1930 GMT in a machine room under a wooden escalator.

The fire started as the evening rush hour was trailing off but hundreds of commuters were still in the station which is London's busiest.

Many passengers were trapped underground as the escalator went up in flames.

More than 150 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus tackled the blaze and searched for survivors.

But they were not able to bring the main fire under control until approximately 2150 GMT.

Wartime tragedies

Tragedy also visited the London Underground during World War II, when the stations were used as air raid shelters.

At the Trafalgar Square station on Oct. 12, 1940, seven people were killed when a German bomb ``penetrated the surface and exploded at the top of the escalator causing an avalanche of wet earth to descend onto the platforms,'' according to Antony Clayton's book ``Subterranean City - Beneath the streets of London.''

Clayton also wrote:

Much more serious was the incident on 14 October at Balham, where six hundred were sheltering. Following a direct hit on the street above, the roadway collapsed and masses of ballast and earth slid into the tunnel, whilst the flood from the shattered mains carried all before it. From the resulting pile of sludge 68 bodies were eventually recovered.

On 11 January 1941 at Bank station 56 people were killed after a bomb plunged into th station concourse, exploding in the escalator machine room and damaging trains at the platform below.

The greatest loss of life at a wartime tube station occurred at Bethel Green on March 3, 1943, when 173 people suffocated during an alert.

``People poured into the station down a poorly lit staircase,'' Clayton wrote. ``After a woman with a child tripped and fell at the foot of this staircase panic ensued, with more people falling and being crushed by the relentless push from those behind.''

July 21

London firefighters responded to four blasts on the city's transit system - two weeks after the deadly July 7, 2005 attacks. The BBC reported "four minor explosions'' - three on London underground and the fourth on a double-deck bus. Police reported one injury.

``We have seen it happen before,'' Sir Ian Blair, commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, said of the July 21 incidents. "The emergency services are getting control over a very confused scene. Clearly this is a very serious incident."

According to the London Fire Brigade web site:

Over 60 firefighters and 12 fire engines have been called to incidents at Shepherds Bush, Warren Street, Oval London underground stations and Shoreditch High Street. As a precaution officers have been deployed at Warren Street London Underground Station in full protective equipment in order to carry out an examination of the scene. The police have carried out an initial examination at Oval and early indications show that there is no trace of chemical agents.

London Mayor Ken Livingstone sought to reassure citizens, saying: "This is a diffficult time for all Londoners and our first priorities will be to provide all possible help to the police investigation, remain calm and refuse to allow the terrorists to stop us from going about our business and enjoy everything this city has to offer.''

London Underground log for July 7

The BBC published a London Underground log from July 7, 2005:

0850: First indications received by London Underground's Network Control Centre (NCC) of a problem on the network suggested a power supply problem affecting a large area as stations were reporting that some escalators had stopped and other station equipment was no longer working.

The NCC immediately treated this as a power supply issue and took actions to resolve the issue.
At this stage NCC believed that the problem could be resolved and power would be restored by 09:15.
What we now know is that the power surge occurred as a direct result of explosions knocking the power supply out at the three incident sites.

08:51: The Central Line called the NCC enquiring about a possible large noise or explosion onboard a train at Liverpool Street.

0851: The first call to the Metropolitan Police indicating that they were being asked to attend a person under a train incident caused by the derailment.

08:52: The Metropolitan Line confirmed that an explosion had taken place. NCC believed this to be directly related to the ongoing power supply issue. Loud noises or explosions often accompany a power supply rupture.

08:53: London Underground commenced Gold Control (command and control person in charge of a serious incident on the Underground). On its own a power surge is a major issue.

0859: The NCC receives a report indicating that a train departing Edgware Road station had hit the tunnel wall. Further information came in quickly, including smoke and passengers self de-training and walking down the tunnel towards the nearest station, Edgware Road. Sub-surface line managers immediately called the emergency services believing this to be a derailment. At this time, LU believed it was dealing with a major incident (derailment) and a serious power supply issue on the network.

09:01: The Metropolitan line reported that a person may be under a train at Liverpool Street. This was the third issue that the Network Control Centre was now dealing with within a space of eleven minutes.

09:03: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager receives reports of passengers running from King's Cross.

09:05: The NCC is advised of walking wounded at Edgware Road.

09:09: An engineer reports losing a high tension power cable between Mansell Street and Moorgate.
09:10: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager reports to NCC a request for ambulances. In the twenty minutes that had passed since.

09:11: The Piccadilly line Duty Operations Manager reports loss of traction current in Russell Square both east and westbound and that a loud bang had been heard at Russell Square westbound with staff already investigating.

0915: It was clear that the series of events occurring across the network were directly related to multiple explosions and a Code Amber alert was declared which means trains are brought into stations and told to stay there until further notice.

This was LU commencing the shutdown of the entire Tube network as it was evident that the continued operation of the Tube presented a risk to customers if further explosions occurred. LU staff began de-training large numbers of passengers and evacuating them from the network.
0917: Metropolitan Police received a call specifically stating than an explosion had occurred at Edgware Road. This explains the Metropolitan Police reporting that the Edgware Road explosion occurred at 0917.

Newspaper timeline for July 7

The Independent newspaper recounted the events of July 7, 2005:

8.50 a.m.: Three bombs explode within a minute on London Underground trains.

8.51: Police get their first call to the Aldgate explosion.

9.15: All trains are stopped by London Underground. Press Association reports emergency services have been called to an explosion at Liverpool Street.

9.17: Police get first call about Edgware Road. All Tube stations are evacuated.

9.33: London Underground says there has been "another incident at Edgware Road" station.

9.40: British Transport Police say five "power surge incidents" - some causing explosions - have occurred on the Underground.

9.47: Thirteen people die when an explosion tears through the back of the no 30 bus.

10.02: Scotland Yard says its officers are assisting with a "major incident".

10.10: It is confirmed that Tony Blair at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles is being updated on events.

10:28: London Fire Brigade says it has been called to four "explosions".

10:39: All London hospitals are put on major incident alert.

11:00: Members of the public are told not travel to London.

11:16: Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair says there have been at least six explosions, but claims the picture is still "very confused".

11.52: All London hospitals are full, police confirm.

12 noon: Tony Blair addresses the nation and says an unknown number of people have died in a series of "barbaric" terrorist attacks.

Fire Brigades Union
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, sent the following ``circular'' to members regarding July 7:

I am sure that all members will join me in condemning the horrific bombings in London last week. This was a terrible and horrific attack on ordinary Londoners going about their daily lives. The thoughts of all FBU members will have been with the victims, their families and friends. I know that you will wish to pay tribute to the passers-by who assisted at the scene, helping to save lives and prevent further suffering. We pay tribute also to the transport workers who responded at the various incidents to attempt to protect their passengers as far as possible from further injury and death.

Emergency Service workers performed as we would expect them to – with professionalism, dedication and compassion. Ambulance staff and hospital workers put their training and procedures into practice to magnificent effect. Our thanks go to all of them. At the heart of the emergency operation were our own members in the London Fire Brigade. They played their part with the professionalism and humanity that lies at the heart of our Service. I know that many messages have been received in London from members throughout the country, demonstrating the pride we all feel when we see fellow members of the Service performing well.

Sadly however, the Fire Service in London – as elsewhere – has been under attack. The London Fire Authority itself has agreed cuts in central London stations. One fire station has closed and the Authority proposes further job cuts later this year. There is a similar picture elsewhere in the UK. It is not sufficient for politicians to praise our members for a job well done. We have the right to the best equipment, training and resources. We also have the right to insist that these cuts are stopped immediately. I shall be discussing with London politicians our call for an urgent review of the cuts proposed in London.

On a final note, I would like to urge all members to join me in opposing any attempt to use the tragic events of 7th July as a means to create divisions in our society. An attack on civilians in London is an attack on a multi-ethnic community. Indeed, London is the most multi-racial city in Europe. It is truly appalling therefore that the response of some has been to launch attacks on ethnic minorities, on muslim communities and on mosques. The far right is attempting to use these terrible events to stoke up division and racial hatred. Trade unions are built on the principle of unity. It is a powerful principle which in our case reflects the humanitarian nature of our job. I am sure that FBU members will stand with other workers for unity and in opposition to those who would attempt to divide us.

Bells never stop ...

On July 9, 2005, an ``eight-pump'' fire swept London's Hard Rock Cafe - even as the fire brigade continued to operate at the scene of the July 7 bombings. Guitars played by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who were rescued from the fire.

A statement on the London Fire Brigade web site said:

"Eight fire engines and around forty firefighters tackled a blaze in a restaurant in Piccadilly. Around sixty people were evacuated from the restaurant after smoke was seen coming from the roof of the building. The fire started in the extraction ducting leading up the side of the seven storey building. Around a quarter of the ground floor restaurant was destroyed by the blaze which fire investigation officers believe started accidentally."

On July 14, 2005, precisely a week after the terrorist bombings, the London Fire Brigade battled one of the city's largest fires in many years - a ``30 pump fire'' at a DVD and CD factory in Wembley in North London. Two hundred factory employees escaped before firefighters arrived - and construction workers were evacuated from the building site of a sports stadium.

Flames destroyed half of the two-story factory as well as 30 vehicles, the fire brigade said, and sent plumes of dark black smoke over the city. Three Valleys Water, the local water utility, estimated the fire brigade used ``17 million litres of water,'' reducing the water pressure in parts of North London, the BBC said.