"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

"Heroes with grimy faces" - Sir Winston Churchill

September 22, 2014

FALKLANDS HOSPITAL FIRE


By London Fire Journal

On April 10, 1984, fire claimed eight lives - including a hero nurse - at King Edward Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in the Falkland Islands, the remote British overseas territory off Argentina.

Nurse Barbara Chick, 36, who emigrated from Britain a year earlier, "ignored orders to keep out of the burning hospital and stayed with her patients until she was overcome by smoke," the Associated Press reported. 
 
Teresa McGill, 26, and her newborn daughter, Karen, were also among the dead, according to rootsweb.com. The others were four women and a man.

The AP reported that one of the victims was married to a local firefighter.
 
The hospital, located in Port Stanley, was built in 1914 and in disrepair.
 
BBC correspondent Robert Fox, reporting from the scene, said:
 
"By dawn, all that was left was four stumps of chimneys, the thin wood boarding of the walls, and fittings flapping like charred tissue paper in the wind."

The hospital lacked fire doors and working fire hoses and pumps.

Royal Air Force firefighters drew water from the sea for the local fire brigade.
 

A temporary hospital was established at Port Stanley town hall.

The blaze also damaged a prefabricated section of the hospital used by the U.K. military, which defeated Argentine troops in the Falkland Islands War two years earlier.
 
From London, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher sent a message of "deepest sympathy."

Speaking in the House of Lords on April 11, Baroness Young, minister of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs, acknowledged "fire hazards" existed.
 
A parliamentry investigation into the fire was damning.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Aug. 1, MP Michael Stern said:

"Lack of fire doors was perhaps the principal and most obvious cause of the rapid spread of the fire, which was the reason why so many lives were lost.

"There had been many reports in the 1970s of the inadequate fire precautions in this and other public buildings in Port Stanley.

"In 1982, the fire officer, the civilian doctor and the military authorities together demanded the urgent installation of fire doors in the hospital - a wooden building - as the only way of stopping a fire should one break out."

"By the date of the fire, those doors had not even been ordered.

"As a result, whatever the cause of the fire - perhaps inevitably, the report was unclear about the exact cause - it spread rapidly and uncontrollably, and the deaths that occurred were to a large extent inevitable.

"Had fire doors been in situ, the deaths might have been avoided."

A new hospital opened in 1987.

In England, Barbara Chick, a Bristol native, was honored with a ceremony and plaque at Shirehampton Health Centre on Sept. 5, 1984, according to the November 1984 edition of the Falkland Islands Newsletter.

It read:

In Memory of Nurse Barbara Chick, S.E.N
A resident of Shirehampton, who
gave her life on 10th April 1984

trying to rescue patients
trapped by a fire at the
King Edward VII Memorial Hospital
Port Stanley
Falkand Islands


At the  ceremony, Dick Mellor, chairman of the Southmead Health Authority, said:

"Her whole life was caring for others. In that disasterous fire her reactions automatically were for the patients first."  
 
LINKS:
 
Associated Press  
Glasgow Herald   House of Lords, April 11, 1984 
House of Commons, April 11, 1984   House of Commons, Aug. 1, 1984