Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager Tim Sargent gives a full account of the devastating fire at the Three Tuns, Alcester
Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service group manager Tim Sargent gives a full account of the devastating fire at the Three Tuns, Alcester, on 17th April.
When were you called and how quickly did you realise how serious the fire was?
Initial call was 2.32pm. The initial crew were in attendance within five minutes and realised quickly that it was a well-established fire within this public house, so they called for four engines immediately. That tells me that from the off they could see that this was a severe fire and developing. They requested the hydraulic platform – that went on the log at 2.42.
I got there a little later because I travelled from Rugby. They were attempting to extinguish the fire on the first and second floors at that point and that’s when I took over, really.
We had low water pressure due to the quality of the town’s mains, so with support from Severn Trent and high-volume pumps from West Midlands, we pumped water from the river to give us some pressure.
Initially we had suggestions that it was “person reported” so crews were doing their best to get into the pub but unfortunately walls were falling down around their ears. We withdrew quite quickly.
Luckily it was fairly quickly confirmed that no one was in the building. It transpired that the missing person was doing work on the building next to it – they hadn’t even been in the pub.
Were the first crews on site from Alcester?
Yes, and we had crews from across the county. The Alcester team were then joined by Bidford and then Stratford, Leamington, Coleshill, Wellesbourne, Leamington, Polesworth and Henley.
By the time I arrived we had six fire engines and the aerial platform, a high-volume pump and a water bowser. That alone indicates that it was quite a significant fire.
In terms of seriousness, what category did the fire come under, and how is that ascertained?
It’s all done by control. A level one response is dealt with by someone at the local fire station – a watch manager, for example – their initial assessment would be that that fire requires more resources than they have. So they then take that to a level two, which means the station manager is mobilised to make further decisions and to increase the fire engines on site. So that happened fairly quickly because the first incident commander made pumps four, which means it moves to a more severe level two incident. On arrival, the station manager made pumps six because of the severity, which triggers the response at level three, which is where I come in as group manager. And a level four officer attended the scene once I took over. It was rapid firefighting action from the go to prevent the other buildings conjoining it.
It is an old timbered building. Is that a challenge?
Yes, it is a challenge as everything’s really dry in an old building – old beams, gaps in the walls where the fire spread, not up to modern building standards. It’s grade II-listed, I believe, and didn’t have the same fire protection systems that a modern building would have, even though it would have had smoke detectors and alarms.
Our priority is obviously life risk, making sure no one is stuck in there, and preventing fire spreading to other buildings which are equally as old or at risk as well. That’s what we did. Initially we used water but our water systems weren’t penetrating the gaps, and then Hereford and Worcester attended the scene as well and they had compressed air foam, which we used. Essentially, foam will stick and it will run down into the hollows and put it out a bit quicker.
Were the neighbouring properties damaged?
There may be some fire damage to the edge and there will be smoke damage, but cosmetic rather than structural.
Specsavers and the post office were unaffected, although Specsavers may have smoke damage on the upper floors. The charity shop adjoining it was also unaffected downstairs, although the smoke will mean the stores will really stink.
Is there anything left of the pub’s interiors?
The building is still there, however, the integral structure has been dramatically affected. The roof has come in and, with the weight of that, the floors have dropped. So that happened within a few hours. There are probably still a few timbers on the roof. The outside is there but the internal will be removed bit by bit as the investigation takes place.
At what point was the fire under control?
It took a couple of hours to get the fire under control because it’s quite a large building.
It must have been traumatic for pub owners Mandy Downes and Andy Bown watching the fire. Did you speak to them?
Yes. They came back from holiday and I spoke to them immediately to put them at ease as best I could. Clearly they were very distraught and upset. That’s their home and livelihood they see in front of them on fire. It’s always a difficult situation. I talked to them at numerous points throughout the evening and we assisted them as best we could. We offered them our fire victim support unit, which deals with things you haven’t thought of, like where you’re going to stop tonight and can we provide details to insurers and get the ball rolling.
Do you know where or how the fire started?
We were unable to go into the premises that day because it wasn’t safe. So the fire investigation took place on the Sunday and it’s still ongoing now. The results could be a number of weeks.