Seven firefighters lost their lives following this historic fire at Albert Embankment. To this day the tragedy remains the greatest single loss of London firefighters during peacetime.
Three fire engines and 25 firefighters were called out to the fire at a three-storey warehouse. Dense fog mingled with the thick smoke of the fire, making the comparatively small blaze much more dangerous. Superintendent Barrow, while trying to remove an escape ladder, ordered everyone to get away as the building began to collapse. Seven firefighters were killed by falling debris when the front of the building collapsed.
The cause of the fire, remarkably, is believed to have been rats gnawing electrical cabling. According to the official London Fire Brigade record of Superintendent Barrows: “Owing to the ground mist and smoke, the front of the building was hardly discernible . . . when suddenly I heard Sub-officer Cornford call out, ‘Look out, Sir,’ and saw the building collapsing. I called out, ‘Drop everything and run,’ but was knocked down by the falling debris. On making enquiry, I found a message to the effect that the building had collapsed and that several of our men were buried. I gave instructions for the debris to be searched for the bodies of our men, then saw the Divisional Officer South who, on hearing of the nature of my injuries, ordered me home. I have since been examined by the District Medical Officer, and placed on the sick list, nature of illness ‘injury to legs’.”
The brigade's former headquarters, built in 1936 and opened a year later, were situated on the Albert Embankment where the tragic fire took place. The names of the seven firefighters are included in a memorial inside the building.
William E. Cornford
Edmund J. Fairbrother
William E. Nash
John W.C. Johnson
Arther A. Page
James E. Fay
Walter W. Hall