Probe begins into chemical blaze

FIRE chiefs have vowed to learn lessons from a chemical fire which left almost 30 people in hospital.More than 20 firefighters, two policemen and six members of the public received hospital treatment after the blaze near Bury St Edmunds but all those still under observation yesterday were due to be released last night.

FIRE chiefs have vowed to learn lessons from a chemical fire which left almost 30 people in hospital.

More than 20 firefighters, two policemen and six members of the public received hospital treatment after the blaze near Bury St Edmunds but all those still under observation yesterday were due to be released last night.

One of the fire officers who needed treatment for the effects of toxic fumes has admitted crews may have inadvertently triggered the incident as they tackled flames in a blazing Land Rover filled with pest control poisons and ammunition.

The crews have been cleared of blame following Thursday's chemical alert in Thurston after pouring thousands of litres water on to the burning vehicle which, when mixed with the chemicals on board, sent clouds of toxic fumes into the air.


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Suffolk's fire bosses stressed firefighters believed the incident was just a standard vehicle fire and officers only realised the grave situation once the blaze had almost been put out.

Leading retained firefighter Adrian Place, who was taken to West Suffolk Hospital in Bury suffering from a sore throat and cough, said they would have reacted differently to the fire had they known what was on the vehicle.

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He told the EADT: “Our main job was to supply the initial crew. With hindsight we would have evacuated the area and not put water on it as we know mixing it with the on board aluminium phosphate gives off a toxic gas.

“Everyone who was taken to West Suffolk Hospital is now doing well and we would like to praise the excellent care we received.”

Firefighters were called to the Suffolk village at about 11.45am on Thursday to reports of the blaze.

The driver of the Land Rover, Chris Earith, saved more people from inhaling the fumes by driving the burning vehicle away from the village.

But crews were unaware the vehicle had rat position, shotgun cartridges and pesticides on board and a number of firefighters, police and members of the public breathed in the cocktail of noxious gases caused by the fire and the subsequent water.

The clean-up operation and the fire service and police's advice to local residents has since been criticised - with some locals claiming they were kept in the dark until more than seven hours after the incident.

Villager Tracey Hall-Roberts said: “The whole thing seemed to be a complete fiasco and a shambles. We are just 150 yards from where the fire was and some houses were even closer, yet we didn't get any information. It took six hours for anyone to call at our home when we were left worrying there could be something major wrong.

“Some serious questions need to be asked - this was a relatively small hazardous incident but what happens if it had been worse?”

As a week-long investigation was launched, Eddie Meelan, senior divisional officer for Suffolk Fire Service, said: “It is very difficult when you attend what you believe to be one incident but it turns out to be completely different.

“We had pretty much extinguished the fire with water before we were given information about the chemicals.

“Suffolk Fire Service's own health and safety executive will work with other agencies involved to create a timeline from before the incident started right through to the aftermath.

“I think there is always room for some lessons to be learned but nothing yet jumps out on me in this situation.”

A spokesman for Suffolk police said a decision was taken not to talk to every affected resident as the plumes of smoke were blowing away from local houses.

A West Suffolk Hospital spokesman said yesterday: “Of the 20 patients we admitted for observation overnight, only one remains in hospital and we expect him to be discharged later this evening.”

“There were 12 fire-officers, two policemen and six members of public admitted, of which three were women. One was discharged last night (Thursday) and the others were kept in for further observations as a precautionary measure.”

Several of the firefighters received treatment because they handled special suits that officers at the scene of the fire were wearing.

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