Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service were very sad to see the loss of the Royal Clarence Hotel. Fortunately, due to the swift actions of the hotel staff in raising the alarm and evacuating the hotel, no one was killed or injured.
Once inside the Royal Clarence, our firefighters faced unsafe conditions after a wall collapsed and a firefighter nearly fell into the fire in the gallery next door. The decision to swiftly withdraw crews due to unsafe conditions was correct. Our firefighters tackled a very difficult blaze that was unpredictable and risked spreading to the whole of the high street. Something we successfully prevented.
Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service decided to produce a report on the Cathedral Yard fire due to the significant interest in the incident, particularly around fire behaviour in historic buildings. The report involved interviewing many staff who were at the incident. This was the first time we had produced a public-facing report.
We asked the National Fire Chief’s Council (NFCC) to independently review our report following an allegation made by the Sector Commander, who was responsible for the Royal Clarence area on the night of the fire. He claimed that parts of his account of the incident were purposefully kept out of the report.
The allegation also implied that the fire which spread into the Royal Clarence Hotel was not previously identified or covered in other independent reports.
Experienced fire officers working on behalf of the NFCC and reviewed their information collected by interviewing 21 people who either witnessed or were involved in the incident. Accounts were checked against each other to build an accurate picture of what happened. They also requested to speak with the Sector Commander for the Royal Clarence area, who declined to be interviewed.
The NFCC review has found that there was no cover-up in the findings and that the spreading of the fire most likely took place through hidden voids at the rear of the building.
Assistant Chief Fire Officer, for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service, Alex Hanson explained: “We are a learning organisation and we wanted to look at how we could further learn and improve. There are a number of valuable points raised in the NFCC review, which we will take on board.”
Alex added: “The review has also provided the reassurance of the integrity of our reporting process. Nothing in the review detracts away from the efforts of our firefighters who dealt with the fire. We care deeply about the safety of our firefighters and will not put them at unnecessary risk, particularly when there are no lives to be saved.”