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Volunteers help as blaze forces mass evacuation

3 August 2009

Fire fighters tackling fireTom Stevens (BRC)Nearly 50 residents were evacuated from their homes and taken to an emergency rest centre after flames tore through a block of flats in Hersham, Surrey. The fierce blaze on 1 August quickly spread from a shop below the flats.

Surrey Fire and Rescue Service sent ten fire trucks to respond to the incident and called for the Red Cross Surrey fire and emergency support service (FESS) to assist residents forced out of their homes.

Evacuated residents

Due to a gas mains problem and gas cylinders located nearby, all the flats located above the shops, an adjoining flat block, plus the houses opposite, had to be evacuated leaving 47 people temporarily homeless. Volunteers Tom Stevens and Ken Forsdyke arrived at the scene to find Hersham High Street cordoned off and firefighters tackling the blaze. 

Ken explained: “FESS was given access inside the outer cordon and we turned the corner to find a crowd of people standing in the road. Some had been evacuated and some were bystanders.”

Valuable support and advice

The pair gradually identified who had been evacuated from their homes, finding many of them in a nearby pub that had stayed open so the fire service and police could interview those directly involved. Several people, including a pregnant lady and her infant, took shelter in the FESS unit where they were kept warm and given drinks, support and advice.

Fire appliances in front of burnt out shopTom Stevens (BRC)Just before midnight the local authority decided to open a rest centre. Tom and Ken alerted volunteer team leader Malcolm Jefferies who put in an urgent call to other FESS volunteers for further support. Three immediately responded.

Malcolm said: “Tom and Ken had control of the situation. Elmbridge Council and Surrey County Council were opening the rest centre in a nearby community hall, so we distributed our support between the rest centre, the street and people in the pub. Many others had dispersed to friends and relatives but we checked with those remaining that they had no urgent medication which needed recovering from their homes.”

At around 2.45am the fire service began to allow people to return to most properties. The FESS volunteers escorted them home to make sure all was okay. They checked that those who couldn’t return had alternative accommodation, before leaving at 3.30am, following the team debrief. Malcolm concluded: “I am very grateful to all the volunteers for turning out instead of turning in (to bed)!"

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