August 04, 2015
CATACOMBS - 1949
On Dec. 21, 1949, fire broke out in stacks of Christmas trees stored in catacombs beneath London's Covent Garden flower market - and burned for more than a day.
A fireman died; many others were injured, according to press reports.
More than 1 million gallons of water were pumped into the catacombs.
In some spaces, the water rose as high as as five feet.
Armed with pneumatic drills, the fire brigade bored holes in concrete floors allowing smoke to escape.
In a report to the London City Council on Jan. 24, 1950, Chief Fire Officer F. W. Delve deemed the fire brigade's performance as "satisfactory."
However, historical notes on the website Fire Net cite a variety of shortcomings.
Men worked alone. "In trying to rescue a colleague, one fireman became so exhausted he barely made it back to street level to summon assistance."
As it was still the day of the "smoke eater," firemen who donned breathing apparatus (BA) often times didn’t use the equipment until they had inhaled copious amounts of smoke.
No one was taking count of firemen entering the premises; communications were "bad to non-existent"; no minimum charging pressure for BA cylinders, with many only two-thirds full.