Fire Buffs promote the general welfare of the fire and rescue service and protect its heritage and history. Famous Fire Buffs through the years include Edward VII, who maintained a kit at a London fire station.

"THE RESCUE" - 1855

"THE RESCUE" - 1855

January 29, 2010


On Feb. 28, 1994, a homeless man surrendered to police for setting a blaze claimed 11 lives at an adult theater in Clerkenwell.

The fire on Feb. 26 at Dream City, near Smithfield Market, injured 13 others.

Witnesses reported seeing a man with a red gasoline can before the flames erupted at the unlicensed theater.

"It was a horrific incident - the worst I have experienced in 30 years," said Ken Emsley, commander of the Euston fire station, who was quoted by The Independent. "It was absolutely chaotic. We were working under extreme conditions, with so many people trying to get out of the building."

According to the newspaper:

"Dream City showed straight and gay sex films and occupied the second and third floors. Witnesses said flames engulfed all floors within minutes of the building 'exploding'. The injured suffered severe burns, broken bones and the effects of smoke inhalation. Some jumped from third-floor windows. The pavement outside became strewn with dead and injured as police and ambulancemen battled to revive badly burned victims."

The fire was set by a "deaf, homeless man called David Lauwers" who had a disgreement with the doorman, according to Wikipedia. Lauwers surrendered at the Walthamstowe police station, and a court sentenced him to life in prison.


Jan. 3, 1911 - Block of dwellings

January 28, 2010


"There's always this hurry. Now you'll have to tell me if my helmet's on straight."
London Evening News - July 24, 1936
British Cartoon Archive


Flames and aerial bombardment visited Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London during the 20th Century, gutting the popular exhibition hall.

According to the BBC:

"In 1925 an electrical fault caused a raging fire; by the time the fire brigade arrived many of the sculptures had already melted, but many of the head moulds were saved. This meant that, despite the fire destroying the death masks of, among others, Robespierre, the masks could be remade.

"In 1939, with the beginning of the Second World War, London endured the first of many bombing raids. On 8 September, 1940, the first night of the London Blitz, Madame Tussaud's was hit by a bomb which inflicted heavy damage."


Dispatch in Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle Telegram, Jan. 27, 1903 and post card of the main gate at Colney Hatch

On Jan. 27, 1903, a fire at the sprawling Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum - a psychiatric hospital serving London - killed 51 people.

According to an account in the British Journal of Psychiatry:

"A few minutes after half-past 5 yesterday morning the steam siren at the asylum sounded the fire alarm, and the inhabitants of New Southgate, Barnet, and Edmonton, the parishes surrounding the asylum, who swarmed into the streets, saw a startling glare showing from the asylum grounds. It was evident that a disastrous fire, which had already obtained a strong hold, was in progress.

"A number of local residents climbed the wall of the asylum at the rear with a view of rendering assistance, but their aid was refused. The fire which had broken out so suddenly and was destined to end so tragically began at the bottom block of the temporary wards.

"It burnt from the outset with great fury, and in a few seconds the whole of the southern block, known as X ward 5, was involved. The buildings, being erected on timber frames and lined with matchboarding, of course fed the flames, and there being a high wind blowing at the time, every element necessary to assist the blaze was present.

"The asylum house fire brigade at once resolutely attacked the fire, but apparently they were in difficulties owing to the lack of water, and they were also short-handed for a task of such magnitude as that which confronted them, there being less than a dozen of the asylum staff drilled as firemen resident inside the walls.

"The heat and smoke created by the fire were also bad elements to contend with, it being im- possible to approach the burning block. In these circumstances it was not surprising to the spectators to observe after a very few minutes that X Ward 4 had burst into flames, which had swept along the commu nicating corridor, meeting with no opposition, while by this time the iron sides and roof of X 5 were almost at a white heat.

"The Hornsey Fire Brigade had been the first to get their steamer to work, but they were unable to do any effective duty until they had dammed a brook at the bottom of the slope, about 400 yards from the fire. When they began to play upon the flames it was too late to prevent the total destruction of the temporary wards, which, in little more than an hour after the outbreak was discovered, had been burned out from end to end and had crumpled down.

"One after another the doomed huts burst into flames. For a while each burned with a brilliant glare, the flames shooting high into the air through the slightly-constructed roof. Then the roof and walls collapsed amid a shower of sparks, and the fire swept on to claim its neighbours. One by one in this rapid way all five of the wards tumbled down, a heap of smouldering ruins."


Photos: Illustrated London News

Theater fires plagued London in the 19th Century and Chief Fire Officer Massey Shaw embarked on an ambitious program to improve safety.

According to the London Fire Brigade:

"Theatre fires were very common in Victorian times because of the gas lamps used to light the stage. In 1881/82 Shaw was requested to conduct an inspection of theatres and make recommendations for their protection.

"Shaw’s article Fires in Theatres recommended that all walls in theatres should be of strong construction, that there should be enough exits for people to escape and that theatres should have a good water supply.

"He also devised the theatre fire curtain (still in use today) which would be made of metal and if a fire started it could divide the theatre from the auditorium."

A major fire at the Alhambra tested London's fire service.

In a dispatch dated Dec. 7, 1882, The New York Times reported: "At 7 o'clock this morning 25 steam fire-engines were playing on the ruins of the Royal Alhambra Theatre. Owing to the great height of the minarets it was impossible for the water to reach time."

The blaze claims the lives of two brigade members, 
First Class Fireman Thomas George Ashford and Fourth Class Fireman Henry Berg, according to London Fire Brigade archives.

It is said the Price of Wales - later King Edward VII - a friend of Shaw's who would attend major fires in full kit - escaped serious injury.   

January 27, 2010


Photos: Illustrated London News, Alexandra Palace
Fire struck London's Alexandra Palace - known as "Ally Pally" - in 1873 and more than a century later in July 1980.


Photos: BBC, Flickr - Steve Hunnisett's photostream
London Salvage Corps headquarters, Watling Street, City of London, 1940 - and commemorative plaque


Photo: Daily Telegraph
In a prelude to the Blitz of 1940, London contended with raids by German zeppelins and "aeroplanes" during World War I. About 800 Londoners died in the attacks.


Photos: London SE1 website team
On March 22, 2009, fire swept Hargreen House on New Kent Road SE1. The building sat vacant for several years before the fire, according to the London SE1 community website.

January 26, 2010

HARROW - 1952

Photos: This is London, Red Cross
Harrow rail disaster - Oct. 8, 1952

On Oct. 8, 1952 a London-bound express train missed a yellow signal and careened into the rear of a stationary local train in northwest London. Then, a third train - outbound from from Euston - crashed into the wreckage, according to the BBC.

The disaster at the Harrow and Wealdstone rail station killed 112 people and injured hundreds more. The London-bound express was running at between 50 and 60 mph.

"It was horrible and a big mess," retired London firefighter David Glennie recalled in an interview published in the Harrow Observer on Aug. 21, 2008.

John Bannister, a passenger on the local, told The Times:

"It all happened in a second. There was a terrible crash and glass and debris showered on me. I blacked out for a moment and when I came round I found I was lying on the line with debris on top of me. I managed to free myself and drag myself on to the platform."

According to Wikipedia:

  • The local from Tring to Euston was made up of nine coaches.
  • The express from Perth to Euston consisted of 11 cars, which included four sleepers.
  • The train from Euston to Liverpool and Manchester consisted of 15 cars.

Of the fatalities "it was believed that 64 fatalities occurred in the local train, 23 in the Perth express and 7 in the Liverpool train. Another 14 could not be ascertained, but probably occurred among passengers on the station platforms or footbridge," according to Wikipedia.

CLAPHAM - 1988

Photo: Press Association
Senior officers from London Fire Brigade (right) inspect recovery effort at scene of 1988 Clapham Junction rail disaster from roof of passenger coach.

On Dec. 12, 1988, firefighters worked to rescue people from a rail disaster near the Clapham Junction station in southwest London. Thirty-five people were killed and another 500 were injured.

The accident involved two collisions between three commuter trains - one of them empty - about half a mile southwest of the station, according to Wikipedia.

''It is sheer, bloody hell,'' said James McMillan, an assistant chief fire officer quoted by The New York Times. The second train ''seemed to dive under the rear of the first, come out on its right-hand side and then go into the empty train,'' he said.

Passenger Chris Reeves, who was seated in a buffet car on one of the trains, said "the roof split open like a ripe tomato, and that's how we got out.''

An inquiry determined "the primary cause was `wiring errors' made by a rail worker who had had one day off in 13 weeks, and that British Rail work practices were to blame," the BBC said. "It made 93 recommendations for safety improvements, including a limit on the hours signalmen were allowed to work."

In a report on the 10th anniversary of the accident, the BBC said: "The trains involved at Clapham were of the old, Mark 1 slam-door variety, which are known to be less able to withstand a crash than more modern carriages."

WEST HAM - 1938

Photo: London Fire Brigade
Station officer inspects equipment at West Ham in 1938.

January 25, 2010


Photos: and East End Life
The London Fire Brigade dedicates a plaque marking the 40th anniversary of an explosion that killed five firefighters on July 17, 1969 at the derelict Dudgeon's Wharf tank farm.

The names of the fallen:
  • Temporary sub-officer Michael Gamble, Millwall station
  • Firefighter John Appleby, Brunswick Road station
  • Firefighter Terrance Breen, Brunswick Road station
  • Firefighter Paul Carvosso, Cannon Street station
  • Firefighter Alfred Smee, Millwall station

Excerpt from East London Advertiser:

Dec. 24, 2009

By Mike Brooke

FIREFIGHTERS remembered their five comrades this Christmas who perished more than 40 years ago at the Dudgeon’s Warf disaster on the Isle of Dogs in East London when a commemorative plaque was unveiled.

London’s fire commissioner Ron Dobson unveiled the plaque at the service on the site of the former Millwall oil storage plant at Compass Point, off Manchester Road.

The service marked that fateful Thursday afternoon in July, 1969, when five firemen and a demolition worker were killed. Five more firemen were serious injured.

A fire had broken out in one of the huge oil storage tanks on the Thames waterfront, big enough to hold a-million gallons, which demolition workers had actually put out. Fire crews arrived to make sure—but miscalculation led to the horrifying explosion that sent six men to their deaths.

They believed the 60ft storage tank was empty and were standing by ready to cool the inside with hoses while demolition worker Richard Adamas cut open an inspection cover through the thick steel hull.

But air rushing in through the open cover may have mixed with vapour from the residual oil at the bottom of the tank. A spark from Richard’s oxyacetylene torch ignited the lethal cocktail of oxygen and oil chemical and exploded, sending the crew on the tank roof hurtling 40ft to their deaths.

Police and nearby dockers raced to the scene searching the rubble for the bodies, while the injured were ferried in a fleet of ambulances to Poplar Hospital.

A neighbour living close by in Manchester Road called the East London Advertiser office at 12.25pm and said: “The explosion rocked our flats—it was just like the blitz all over again.”

Mothers ran to the nearby Cubitt Town Primary school to make sure their children were safe.

The man who raised the alarm was the plant office manager Alf Moon, who later gave a dramatic account of the tragic events to the paper.

“A fire broke out in tank number 97 in the morning during the demolition work and I called the Fire Brigade,” he said. “But before I had even put the telephone down, the men signalled that they themselves had extinguished the fire.“The Brigade arrived to make sure the tank was safe. That’s when it exploded into a sheet of flames. It was just like a rocket taking off.

“The men who had been on the top were sailing through the air with their arms and legs outstretched and twisted metal flying around them.”

Wreckage from the blast landed 150ft away. One of the demolition workers who helped find the bodies was metal-cutter Roy Measom, whose friend Richard Adamas, known as Reg, was the workman who was killed.

He said: “We had the fire under control, but the firemen arrived and wanted to get inside the tank.

“They told me to cut off bolts holding an inspection cover at the bottom of the tank.

“Reg lit the gun and handed it to Mick Hagarty who gave it to me.

“As soon as I started cutting, there was an explosion and the gun was torn from my hand. Reg landed face down on the jetty. I think he was killed instantly.”

Roy Measom was nearly killed himself, as he later recalled: “I saw the top of the tank flying towards me and dived between two other tanks. It’s a miracle I survived.

“When I looked up, the firemen were flying around like paper dolls. The air was full of helmets and debris.”

January 22, 2010

SOHO CLUB - 1980


Photos: Soho Fire Station web site, London Fire Brigade

EDITOR'S NOTE: In early 2012, a reader of the London Fire Journal requested assistance in locating the wife and child of a relative who was killed in this tragedy. The reader, from Panama, had lost touch with the relative's wife three decades ago. On April 14, 2012, the Fire Journal received information that helped bring the case to a close. We are pleased to report it appears to be a very happy ending!

By Vinny Del Giudice

On Aug. 15, 1980, a patron ejected from a Soho club returned with a can of gasoline, lit a match and killed 37 people attending a farewell party - London's deadliest fire since the Blitz at that time.

"There was very little showing at the front; at the rear, the building was an inferno," according to the website of the Soho fire station. "The entire building and staircases were engulfed in seconds. No one inside stood a chance."

The initial call came into the London Fire Brigade at about 3:30 a.m., and proved to be a "bad address" - a location off the Soho station's fireground.

Firefighters were then directed to the club on Denmark Place, which was frequented by South Americans and Spaniards, many of whom were illegal immigrants.

Euston station leading fireman David Pare recalled: "Y
ou could hear people screaming but we couldn't see any flames."

Firefighters assigned to the Green Watch extinguished the fire; Red Watch crews were responsible for recovery of the bodies. The club wasn't licensed.

"We only realized what really happened when we got the fire out and managed to get inside," said a fire brigade spokesman quoted by United Press International.

Initially, London police suspected the fire may have been tied to a dispute between drug gangs or, in a strange twist, feuding hot dog vendors as hot dog carts were stored in a room in the club.

Instead they charged John Thompson, 42, described as a petty thief and drug addict.

After arguing with a barman, Thompson purchased a gallon of gasoline at service station, poured the fuel through a letter slot at the club and set it alight.

He was sentenced to life in prison in May 1981 and died of lung cancer on the 27th anniversary of the blaze.

Colombian Elizabeth Mercado, 30, the guest of honor, jumped from a second story window along with Eduardo Trujillo, 28, also from Colombia.

"Everywhere there was the smell of petrol and very black smoke - plastic dripping from the ceiling of the club," said Trujillo, quoted by the Associated Press.

Many of the dead were found still seated at tables; other tried to flee.

"The fire spread too fast for them," said Ray Baldwin, a divisional fire officer.

Locked doors blocked escape routes from the venue, which went by the names "Rodos" and "Victor Gonzales."

Leading firefighter Pare recalled:

"We came up against a music shop where there was a man in a desperate state. He was trying to break the security grills on the shop window to get out."

The man was hysterical. He kept screaming 'there are hundreds dead up there'."

"In front of us was the fire escape to the club and we could immediately see every window had been blown out."
"There was one body on the staircase, one on the landing and one as you went into the building."

"On the first floor there was a kitchenette area and that is where the man, who we had helped out of the music room window, had escaped.
"He had had to climb over bodies three deep to escape."

Alan Freeman, a brigade photographer, said:

 "As you walked up the stairs, you went into one of the rooms and it was as if the bodies were dominoes that had been pushed over.
"It was like they had been frozen in the same position they were in before the fire started."

LIST OF DEAD - From the Independent in 2015


BOUGH Pamela
BULATI Beiddredin
CAMPBELL Archibald
DICK Maria
DOLAN Peter Alan
GUMIEL Theresa
MUNOZ Gloria
NAVARO Antonio
NORTON Bridget
RAMSEY William
REID Alexander
SOTO Carlos Alberto
VARGAS Alejandro
YULE Frederick


Photo: Soho Fire Station web site
On July 27, 1982, flames swept the Civil Service Building and adjacent structures at The Strand in London's West End.

The fire, which injured two firefighters, started at about 5 a.m. and spread to eight stories of the building before it was extinguished at midday, according to news reports. The flames were fueled by exploding acetylene cylinders used for construction work.

The pump escape, pump and turntable ladder from Soho and pump from Westminster answered the initial alarm, and subsequent calls brought a total of 20 engines and six turntable ladders, according to the Soho fire station web site.

The STOP message said: "A range of buildings, 5 floors and basement, 40m x 80m, 60% of all floors, 10% of basement and 60% of roof dxf, 15 Jets, 8 Ground monitors, One HP monitor, BA," according to the Soho web site.


Postcard of escape and engine in late 1800s or early 1900s.


Postcard of hose and ladder exercise during Victorian Era. (Firefighter at lower left serves today at Finchley)


World War Two poster from Ministry of Home Security

January 19, 2010


These negatives were located in an antique shop in London and posted on "jonkeegan's photostream" on Flickr.