Don’t panic! Billowing smoke was for practice

The training exercise fire at St Mary's Hospital in Milton
The training exercise fire at St Mary's Hospital in Milton

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NEIGHBOURS feared the worst when they spotted a plume of black smoke billowing across Portsmouth.

Some were worried it might be a serious house fire, as smoke filled the sky.

But there was in actual fact no cause for concern today – it was just a team of firefighters carrying out a training exercise.

Fire crews from Southsea were practising their fire safety skills in a disused ward at the back of St Mary’s Hospital, in Milton Road, Milton.

The team of 20 firefighters put out small fires in old timber, which they ignited with gas cylinders.

They also tested out their breathing apparatus and new recruits got shown how to break down the door of a room on fire.

Southsea red watch manager Rob Dellows, who led the all-day training exercise, said there was no need for residents to panic.

‘There was no need for people to worry. We had 20 firefighters in attendance and they completely surrounded the building.

‘Everything was under control.’

‘The majority of our firefighters are extremely experienced in dealing with fires. It isn’t often we get to do the real thing so we wanted to do an exercise that was as lifelike as possible. It’s critical we continue to train and maintain our high standards.’

Firefighters are set to continue their training duties at the disused ward, which will be demolished at some point, all day tomorrow.

Today was the first time the crew carried out training exercises at the site.

‘We hope to make as much use of the building as we can before it is demolished,’ Mr Dellows said.

Resident David Harmer, 46, of Andrew Close, Milton, said he was concerned when he spotted the smoke.

‘I was out walking with my son Reggie when I suddenly saw this huge black cloud of smoke.

‘People should be told when this sort of thing happens.

‘It wouldn’t take much to drop a leaflet through the door.

Angela Welch, 36, also of Andrew Close, said: ‘I thought it might have been somebody’s house on fire. I’m glad no one was hurt.’