Firefighter hopes new invention will prevent tragedies

DESIGN Pete Broomfield with his invention
DESIGN Pete Broomfield with his invention
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A FAREHAM firefighter who experienced the death of two colleagues while on duty has produced a life-saving invention to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

Pete Broomfield was at Shirley Towers, Southampton, on April 6 2010 when St Mary’s firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon lost their lives tackling a fire in a ninth-floor flat.

An inquest earlier this year heard that one of the key factors in the tragedy was fallen cables, which hampered attempts to escape from Flat 72 and the rescue operations.

So Pete began to formulate a special adaptation to prevent cables tangling themselves around the air cylinders on firefighters’ backs.

The strap has been incorporated into all of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s breathing apparatus (BA) sets and is now being deployed by other services around the country.

He said: ‘I went into Shirley Towers when most of the smoke had gone but I was still getting caught up in cables even then.

‘If you are trying to get away from heat and get tangled up in cables, you’ve pretty much had it. It was at that point I thought there had to be a way of stopping this happening.”

He carried out research into whether other brigades in the UK and around the world had a solution but was surprised to find out they didn’t.

He began working on a prototype and tested them with his colleagues at Fareham station.

‘We’d fill a training chamber with cables and try to battle through it,’ he added.

‘It worked exactly as we hoped it would. One lad without the strap went through the chamber and got stuck in the cables, while a lad with the strap made it through.’

The strap creates a bridge between the air cylinder and the backplate of the BA set.

He added: ‘Cables have been responsible for the deaths of firefighters and something as simple as this is a matter of pence to a brigade.

‘If you are running away from heat to get through a door, it could be a matter of life or death – this strap will help you make it through that door.’

Bob Ratcliffe, assistant chief officer for Hampshire Fire and Rescue, said: ‘As a service, we have been committed to learning from the events at Shirley Towers and sharing this to improve the safety of firefighters across the country.

‘We encourage involvement and innovation from all our staff and Mr Broomfield’s design is an inspiring example of this.’