James Watt Street fire, Glasgow

James Watt Street fire, Glasgow

The bars, which had been in place since the building’s prior use as a whisky warehouse, were found to have compromised escape routes. An inquiry set up following the tragedy further discovered that the fire escape doors had been locked from the inside.

The trapped workers were also unable to escape by the stairs, which had been set alight by burning polyurethane foam. They could be seen from the street as they smashed windows with chairs and attempted to bend the iron bars so they could jump out. Hopes of rescuing them were dashed after the roof of the building collapsed.

The efforts of 70 firefighters from Glasgow Fire Brigade were undermined by the difficulty of gaining access to the building and the intense heat from the blaze. They needed to use specialist cutting gear on the steel doors in order to gain access.

Three workers and a lorry driver were the only ones to escape from the three-storey building. One described how quickly the building went up as everything, including the stairs and floors, was made of wood, producing a raging inferno in a matter of minutes.

The FBU again set out its case for a modernised system of fire safety. General Secretary Terry Parry wrote:

“My Union feel in the circumstances it is right that we should publicly reiterate the main points of our submissions to your Departmental Committee of Inquiry on the ques­tion of strengthening very much the contribution at present made by fire brigades in the field of fire safety as well as fire fighting.

“These clearly are: —

  1. The need to bring all legisla­tion dealing with fire safety measures into one Act.
  2. To extend the scope of such an Act to cover hotels, board­ing houses, premises of public assembly and entertainment as well as factories and offices, shops and railway premises.
  3. For the new Act to be ad­ministered broadly on the lines of the fire safety section of the Offices, Shops and Railway Pre­mises Act, where premises re­quire certification, and for fire brigade personnel to be the in­specting and enforcing agents.
  4. For the whole of personnel on fire stations to be used more fully as aides to fire prevention departments both in relation to the collating of preliminary in­formation and follow up spot inspections.

“We are quite sure these mea­sures carried out by a well trained, well-equipped fire fighting force would make an important contri­bution in improving the level of safety to life and property.”

-The Firefighter vol. 8, no. 6, December 1968

The FBU was represented throughout the inquiry, during which the union actively and repeatedly turned attention to the need for fire safety improvements. The inquiry’s recommendations included a ban on bars on the windows of factories, the control of the storage and use of foam plastics and other flammable materials that give off toxic fumes when ignited, and the extension of restrictions on smoking in factories.

In addition, measures were introduced for more frequent inspection of factories with a high fire risk and for introducing certification of premises to ensure they had safe and suitable means of escape.

Share this post