SFRS to mark the anniversary of Glasgow’s Kilbirnie Street disaster
20 August 2015
Seven firefighters were killed while tackling a blaze at a cash and carry in the city’s Southside in 1972.
The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) will mark the anniversary of a disaster that claimed the lives of seven firefighters in Glasgow.
Shortly after 11:20 on the morning of Friday 25 August 1972 crews from the then Glasgow Fire Service raced to the scene of a savage blaze at the Sher Brothers’ warehouse in Kilbirnie Street. Assistant Chief Officer Lewis Ramsay, the chair of the SFRS Heritage Committee, explained how the tragedy unfolded. He said: “Employees raised the alarm after they discovered a fire in the attic. “The building was three stories high and it was used as a cash and carry, so there was obviously a huge amount of stock stored inside.” He continued: “First responders found smoke coming through the roof and teams in breathing apparatus went in to tackle what was clearly a major fire, but one that didn’t appear unusual for Glasgow at that time.” As firefighters attacked the blaze in the attic flames spread through hidden voids in its walls to leave them almost completely surrounded. The intense heat from the inferno and the emerging danger led the incident commander, Divisional Officer Andrew Quinn, to order his teams from the building; but as they made their retreat Fireman James Rook became trapped. ACO Ramsay said: “Divisional Officer Quinn would have known a rescue operation was dangerous but the only alternative was to leave one of his men to die. “After a first attempt ended with the teams having to be withdrawn due to exhaustion, he personally led a second rescue attempt. They managed to find Fireman Rook and he was pulled from beneath a pile of stock. “The seven men were making their way out of the building when the fire ignited the hardwood ceilings on the first floor, causing a massive flashover.” The near simultaneous ignition of all combustible materials in the room caused an instant burst of flame and enveloped the men in a wave of heat measuring over 500 degrees Celsius (932 Fahrenheit). Divisional Officer Andrew Quinn, Leading Fireman Alistair Crofts, Fireman Iain Bermingham, Fireman Allan Finlay, Fireman William Hooper, Fireman Duncan McMillan and Fireman James Rook were all killed. Fireman Hugh Welsh was on the floor below when the flashover occurred. Seeing flames burst across the ceiling, he delayed his escape to run up the stairs and haul injured Fireman Brian Murray to safety. In recognition of his actions he was awarded the Glasgow Corporation Medal for Bravery by the city authorities. ACO Ramsay added: “The terrible events of that day must never be forgotten and we owe it to those who gave their lives to remember their courage and devotion. “Firefighters of the time served in an era when industrial, commercial and residential buildings in the city were very densely packed, when safety regulations were much more lax and when there was a much poorer understanding of fire risks. “The Kilbirnie Street fire claimed seven lives and had a devastating effect on countless others. Families, friends and colleagues continued to suffer for a very long time.” Thousands of Glaswegians lined the route of the men’s funeral processions and they were laid to rest in the Necropolis, where the fire service holds an annual memorial service on the anniversary of the disaster.
SFRS crews will again gather at the memorial site at 11am on Tuesday 25 August, to mark the 43rd anniversary.
To honour Glasgow's fallen firefighters, the Firefighters' Heritage Trail has been created to tell the stories of some of the people and places that have played an important part in the history of firefighting in Glasgow. More information on this is available at www.firescotland.gov.uk/the-firefighters-heritage-trail and people can find further information on SFRS heritage at www.firescotland.gov.uk/about-us/our-heritage.