Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service: A look back at 2020

We saw at the start of the year the massive impacts of Storm Dennis and supported our communities when they were at their most vulnerable. During the first lockdown period we as a service experienced a large increase in secondary fires, and as the weather improved we started to experience a number of grass fires which added a strain onto the organisation.

Rob Barber, Deputy Fire Chief

Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service’s top officers have thanked the county’s residents for “everything you have done” and the families of personnel for “their support” as the service looks back on another busy year.

Coronavirus has loomed large over everything the service has done this year – as it has the communities it serves - and Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant thanked the county for its support for “our collective attempts to ensure communities are coping with the ongoing difficulties facing Covid”.

While Deputy Chief Fire Officer Rob Barber paid tribute to all serving personnel “and their families” for “the work you have delivered under the most strange circumstances we have ever experienced”.

There have been a number of emergencies dealt with, safety campaigns carried out and rescues that have taken place since January 1 both before and during the pandemic.

The year began with a celebration as on-call retained firefighter Dan Mistreanu, who is based in Burslem, was commended for his bravery having chased and helped to detain Martin Sayer who had snatched a 72-year-old woman’s handbag after she left the town’s post office.

Sayer was later jailed for 40 months following the incident in June 2019, and Dan received his commendation from Becci Bryant in a presentation at Burslem fire station on 8 January.

Tragedy then struck when two pets died – but a number of animals were rescued - in a blaze on Maxwell Place, Hartshill, on 12 January. Firefighters recovered eight animals from the home including four cats and four dogs, but sadly two cats died at the scene. The rest of the animals were taken in and treated by the RSPCA.

Pets are rescued from the fire

And 15 January saw the completion of work between SFRS and Tamworth Borough Council as part of the service’s Community Sprinkler Project to improve the safety of the seven high rise blocks within the area.

The retrofitting process began in March 2019 after extensive planning with the council and the residents within the blocks in the fallout of the Grenfell Tower tragedy in London in 2017. The project cost £1.6 million.

Into February, and crews from across the county were called to reports of flooding and people trapped in their vehicles due to either flood water or objects falling when Storm Dennis swept in from the 11th day of the month.

Firefighters were called more than 170 times to flooding incidents including the A38 at the Burrows turn off in Lichfield on Sunday 16 February where there was more than a million litres of water on the southbound side of the carriageway.

Plenty of rescues had to be carried out across the county as homes and places of work became flooded.

Flooding caused by Storm Dennis

The arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in March saw lockdowns and workplace furlough schemes put in place across the country which brought about a “new normal” for everyone in day-to-day life. But the fire service continued their work and there was a spate of deliberately started fires that kept crews busy.

Crews were called to four deliberate fires in Burton-on-Trent, Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stoke-on-Trent on 19 March, with warnings from bosses that such incidents were “causing firefighters to be taken away from what could potentially be real life-threatening emergencies”.

They were part of 69 deliberate fires across the county that month, which also included blazes in Chasewater, Foley Park in Fenton, Kidsgrove, and a tree on fire on Keele Golf course on and around 25 March.

April saw our crews really step up to the plate to help the more vulnerable in our communities as the pandemic lockdowns continued. SFRS delivered provisions to people across the county and also supported the provision of personal protective equipment to health and care colleagues while assisting other agencies and services when called upon.

This, as well as a raft of charity work, has continued throughout the whole of 2020.

On the fire side, 45 firefighters were sent to a roof blaze at a barn house on Burton Road in Needwood on 17 April. An investigation into the cause of the fire deemed it accidental and was caused by embers blown from a nearby bonfire. Thankfully, no-one was injured.

And on 21 April, good work from firefighters saved a farm outbuilding containing 50 tonnes of hay. Twenty-three firefighters attended the fire in the open on farmland near Uttoxeter, which saw 80 tonnes of hay on fire on Main Road in Hollington.

The damaged barn house

And that same day, the Mere Valley area of Cannock Chase was subject to a blaze between Brook Lane and Brock Hill, off Pool Road, in Brocton, Stafford.

Eighty-five firefighters with specialist equipment and 12 fire engines attended the scene at the height of the blaze which involved a large area of grassland.

We then attended Wetley Moor Common on Eaves Lane in Bucknall, Stoke-on-Trent, on 22 April where a total of 50 firefighters attended. The blaze, started accidentally, destroyed approximately nine hectares of moorland. Flames reached two metres high in some areas, driven by strong winds, making the fire extremely difficult to overcome.

The May Bank Holiday weekend saw SFRS receive more than 50 call-outs to secondary fires. Between 5pm on Friday 22 May and midnight on Tuesday 26 May the service logged 58 calls to a variety of blazes across the county. Secondary fires are generally small fires which take place outside – typically in grass or heathland.

But this was tempered at the end of that month by the introduction of two new vehicles brought in as a result of the devastating wildfires across the Staffordshire Moorlands in 2018. The Ford Ranger Wildfire vehicles are based at our stations in Brewood and Longton and are crewed by on-call personnel attending fires on grassland, moorland and in the county’s more rural areas.

Into June, and on the 16th day of the month firefighters had to rescue a teenage girl who got into difficulties in the River Trent in Stone. The girl, aged 15, was with friends at the riverside near to Westbridge Park. She went into the river and slipped on a wet rock, losing her footing, and was swept away by the current.

Luckily on this occasion a fence prevented her from being carried further downstream and kept her head above water. She was cold, but unharmed.

Chester Road in Enville was the scene of an emergency on 31 July as an area known as the Millon was alight.

Firefighters with specialist equipment and more than 20 fire engines attended the scene, which involves approximately 200m by 300m of dense private woodland. Following an investigation, the fire was believed to have been started due to a campfire.

Fire damage in Enville

On September 11, a house fire in Haig Close, Cannock, resulted in a 75-year-old man being taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham with serious burns, but he sadly died later the same evening.

Graham Mills, Head of Emergency Response at SFRS, said at the time: “This is an extremely tragic incident and our thoughts are with the man’s family and friends during this difficult time. A joint fire investigation has taken place with colleagues from Staffordshire Police which found that the fire started accidentally and was caused by smoking materials.”

November saw us have to issue a reminder to youngsters about the treatment of emergency services personnel after Bonfire Night saw reports a small bonfire had been started by a group of youths in Havelock Place, Shelton, Stoke-on-Trent – with further reports of disturbances in neighbouring streets.

Attending Staffordshire Police patrol cars and SFRS vehicles were then targeted by the group throwing missiles. Thankfully, there are no reports of any injuries or damage.

Sergeant Chris Moss, from the Stoke South Neighbourhood Policing Team, said at the time: “We are really disappointed by the actions of those involved and we are looking into finding them.”

On 12 November a flat fire occurred at Ridware House on Hob’s Road in Lichfield. Crews extinguished the fire on the third floor and assisted with the safe evacuation of the residents. A woman suffering from smoke inhalation was taken to Queen’s Hospital in Burton.

As a result of fire damage and fire safety compromises, specifically to the fire alarm system, integral fire doors and the communal stairwell, the building was evacuated for the safety of the residents, who were able to return by 2 December.

There was a near miss for one resident of Cannock on 25 November which led SFRS to urge others to check over their home appliances.

The damaged tumble dryer

The tumble dryer fire saw a man and his dog have to be rescued by firefighters. Fortunately, the fire did not spread and the tumble dryer was removed from the premises.

But the month ended on a positive note with the start of Dermot Hogan in the role of Northern Service lead vacated by Ian Housley – who retired after 30 years with the service.

Dermot first joined the service in 1992. He said at the time: “I am very proud and excited to take on this new role.”

And into December, a fatal house fire in Norton sadly saw a woman aged in her 70s pronounced dead at the scene by the ambulance service. The fire, on 10 December, took place on Mallorie Road and was declared to be accidental on 14 December after an investigation confirmed it was started by the disposal of cigarettes.

A number of dogs were rescued from the scene.

Graham Mills said at the time: “This was a tragic accident in which sadly a woman lost her life. Our thoughts remain with her friends and family at this difficult time.”

And another large blaze grabbed the headlines on 15 December at Drayton Manor theme park. The fire, which covered an area of 30m by 10m, developed quickly due to the wooden roof construction of the building it started in. Flames were approximately 25m-to-30m in height at the peak of the fire.

The fire was put out after crews broke through the roof of an adjoining building and used jets to prevent the blaze from spreading. It was again declared an accident, with an electrical fault thought to be the cause.

Looking back at the year, SFRS Deputy Chief Fire Officer and Deputy Chief Executive Rob Barber said to service personnel: “On reflection of 2020 I have been thinking about the amazing job everyone within the service has done. There has been a massive amount said about the response to Covid and, as such, I won’t repeat all of the fantastic work that you have all delivered.

Rob Barber
Rob Barber, Deputy Fire Chief

“I wanted to just reflect on a the fact that despite a global pandemic you have all delivered against our statutory duties across prevention, protection, and response. Our operational crews that couldn’t work from home came into the workplace each and every day to ensure that business as usual was maintained and there have been a number of significant incidents that have been dealt with.

“We saw at the start of the year the massive impacts of Storm Dennis and supported our communities when they were at their most vulnerable. During the first lockdown period we as a service experienced a large increase in secondary fires, and as the weather improved we started to experience a number of grass fires which added a strain onto the organisation.

“It was good to see, however, that the learning from the hot summer of 2018 meant that things had been put into place to ensure that these incidents could be dealt with quickly and effectively.

“As the year progressed we experienced fatal house fires and had a number of very traumatic road traffic collisions to deal with, not to mention the attacks that some of our crews came under during the bonfire period.

“In addition, our prevention and protection teams have worked tirelessly to ensure their responsibilities were delivered against and recently we have seen the prevention, protection, and response activities being tested simultaneously when we had to evacuate the high rise block of flats in Lichfield.

“This year has been anything but normal. It is only when you step back and think about the amount of work that we have delivered that it hits home. All of the supporting departments have delivered a massive amount of work and have demonstrated their flexibility in the most difficult of circumstances.

“I want to say a massive thanks to you all and your families for the work that you have delivered under the most strange circumstances we have ever experienced.”

And Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant said: “There is no doubt that this year has presented us all with some of the most challenging of times.

Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant
Becci Bryant, Chief Fire Officer

Becci Bryant

“The way SFRS have all responded to the Covid challenge this year has been incredible. Between April and June this year we’ve delivered food parcels, delivered more than one million items of PPE, issued emergency PPE from fire stations, supported the installation of temporary buildings for our health partners.

“We have visited vulnerable people in their homes to conduct safe and well visits and we have carried out the delivery of important information to people who were shielding.

“This time last year none of us would have expected that would have been the most significant role we played in support of our communities.

“I know that every one of us has been supported by our families and I’m very grateful to them for the help they have given us. Their support has helped our collective attempts to ensure our communities are coping with the ongoing difficulties facing Covid.”

And in a final message to the people of Staffordshire as well as SFR personnel, Ms Bryant added: “Thank you all so much for everything that you have done in 2020. I hope you all have a lovely Christmas and that you do get the opportunity to spend some time with family and loved ones.

“Merry Christmas and I wish you all a very happy 2021.”