Restaurant manager praised after fire

A FIREFIGHTER has praised the actions of a manager who swiftly evacuated his customers to safety after fire broke out in a restaurant kitchen.

A FIREFIGHTER has praised the actions of a manager who swiftly evacuated his customers to safety after fire broke out in a restaurant kitchen.

The drama unfolded at 6.40pm on Friday – a night the restaurant in the Waterfront Place complex, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, was expecting 500 diners in the three-storey converted historic premises.

When two crews of firefighters from Chelmsford arrived at the scene minutes later they discovered the complex's operations manager Mark Freeland had cleared the building – there were about 80 people inside at the time - but had gone back in with executive chef Andrew Mathias to try to discover the source of the smoke.

Chelmsford station officer Tony Devenish said: "The manager had done exactly what he should have with a well-rehearsed fire plan – he had got everybody out and raised the alarm and then went back to see what the problem was.

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"The restaurant was initially alerted by smoke in a suspended ceiling in the kitchen area and they were able to access part of it and saw it filling with smoke.

"At this stage we think the fire was probably caused by an electrical fault in the cavity wall. It was spreading through the cavity and there was a large amount of smoke in the building and accumulating in the loft space. We were concerned it would traverse the ducting which restaurants have to keep cooking smells contained but luckily this was not the case."

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Mr Devenish said fortunately the fire remained contained in the cavity wall but he had ordered back-up fire crews from Great Baddow and Ingatestone to the scene plus the town's aerial platform ladder as a precaution.

"I didn't want to take any chances and the guys from the station worked well," he said.

Firefighters used one hose reel and breathing apparatus to fight the fire, which was under control in about an hour. No-one was hurt.

On Saturday, loss adjusters were in the kitchen, trying to assess the extent of the damage, which appears to be more cosmetic rather than structural. The exterior escaped largely unscathed but the whole interior was smoke-logged.

Mr Freeland said yesterday: "We are trying to be positive and get back in business as soon as possible and I would really like to say thank you for the support of the community over the last two or three days.

"We first noticed what was happening when the alarms went off. We had our emergency response team in action to evacuate everybody. We are now looking to mend our nets and get ready for our summer season."

Receptionists were reassuring worried callers that they planned to open again for business within a fortnight.

The Waterfront Place is a traditional, Victorian-originated banqueting and conference hall which hosts receptions, auctions, corporate hospitality, training courses and various celebrations, including weddings.

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