Fire-fighters have dealt with some spectacular incidents in recent years, probably the biggest being the fire at the top of Station Road in the Grand Hotel on July 28th2009. The incident was attended by 100 Fire-fighters who evacuated 100 people from nearby residences before tackling flames at the 6 storey Grand Hotel. A fire service spokesperson described the scene as like something from the London blitz. As it
turned out this fire was arson but no one was ever convicted for it. Over the course of the following Months the structure which remained (a lot of it collapsed during the fire) was demolished and a rudimentary car park created. The Paris Casino was also forced to close due to some fire and water damage and the remains of its building demolished after it was found to structurally unsafe. Since the fire the Paris Casino has re-opened adjacent to Blackpool Football Club in Bloomfield Road.
A potential disaster was averted in 1988 when a blaze occurred in the 16 storey Ashworth block of flats in Healey Street. Fumes spread through the whole of the building and firemen were in action across the entire 16 floors. Gas from broken mains ignited bringing the prospect of a huge fireball. Three years earlier in 1985 fire broke out in the theatre at the end of North Pier. The pier was probably saved by the quick thinking of singer Vince Hill and pier manager Philip Lockwood who along with others tackled the blaze with an emergency hose until the fire brigade arrived. This blaze was a perfect example of some of the unusual problems faced by the fire-fighters of Blackpool. The blaze was in the wooden floor of the theatre and the tide was in so the firemen had trouble reaching it and the engines were too heavy to take safely into the pier. Blackpool lifeboat men took out a hose over the side of the pier and attacked the blaze from underneath. The subsequent inquiry placed the blame on a carelessly discarded cigarette end.
But it is the really big fires of yesteryear that Blackpool residents still speak of such as in January 1932 when the resorts largest department store RHO Hills was destroyed by fire. Not only did the fire brigade have to contend with the blaze but also a 50 miles per hour gale was blowing straight in from the Irish Sea. This had the effect of fanning the flames and blowing the water jets off course. The store was next door to Blackpool Tower and they got around the problem by directing the water onto the ironwork of the Tower so that the water could be carried onto the blazing building, consequently all the staff and customers were safely evacuated.
4 years later in on October 7th 1936 a fireman was sadly killed fighting a blaze at Boots the chemist in the town centre. This fire spread very quickly and broke out in the photographic part of the shop which was in the basement, it spread beyond the store to other buildings in West Street, Market Street, Corporation Street and the Town Hall. A leading drapery store Rileys was completely destroyed as were the borough surveyor’s offices and local health insurance offices. Tragically for historians many plans going back over 40 years of Blackpool history were destroyed but the real tragedy was the death of 25 year old Raymond Laycock who was buried below tons of rubble in the basement. He remained trapped for almost 27 hours as his colleagues fought desperately to get him out. When eventually his body was recovered it was one of the most emotional episodes in the history of the Blackpool fire brigade. Thousands of spectators had gathered and remained almost silent as the body was brought out of the collapsed rubble. Officer Laycock had only married 13 days before his death, his funeral was held at St John’s parish church where he had also married.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach has been a victim of fire several times. In 1937 the famous Luna Park was destroyed and the following year saw the ornate pavilion of the North Pier go up in flames. In 1939 just before the outbreak of WW2 the Pleasure Beach Indian Theatre was destroyed and in the same year one of Blackpool best known cinemas, the Imperial on Dickson Road became a mass of flames. The 1950’s and 60’s saw several major incidents. In 1956 the beautiful Tower Ballroom was reduced to twisted fragments. Another leading cinema, The Princess on North Promenade was gutted in 1963 and the following year the Rainbow Theatre on South Pier was very seriously damaged. In 1967 lightning did strike twice in the case of RHO Hills which burnt to the ground in 1932 was again the scene of a disastrous fire although thankfully no one lost their life this time.
Blackpool’s first fire station was built in 1878 on the site now occupied by the Hounds Hill shopping centre. This lasted until the mid-1930’s with the brigades headquarters sharing premises with the Police in Albert Road alongside the Winter Gardens with these premises seeing the original horse drawn fire engines and of course stabling for the horses
Fire has robbed Blackpool of historical buildings over the years including in 1989 its oldest. This was a blaze at Continental Bedding in Church Street a building which had previously been a market and at one time ‘Raikes Smithy’ which had its origins three centuries ago. The most memorable fire was without a doubt that in December 1991, in which the Fun House of the Pleasure Beach was destroyed. Flames leapt 100 feet high and the art deco building dating back to 1936 was totally destroyed. Fortunately, the dozens of firefighters were able to save the rest of the Pleasure Beach and the reaction of Geoffrey Thompson, its boss was to plan to replace with the biggest ride in the world, such was the spirit of the Thompson family and Blackpool. Lost in this fire was the the body of the famous ‘laughing man’ which had for decades before enjoyed prime position at the entrance to Blackpool Pleasure Beach. His head though survived as it was being repaired in workshops nearby. A new body was constructed for the ‘head’ and the attraction made its return.
The last 20 or so years has seen much upheaval in terms of regulations and all Blackpool Bed and Breakfast and accommodation providers are now required to have the latest L2 fire alarm systems fitted as a requirement for them to trade. Minimum requirements in this regard are smoke sensitive detectors in each bedroom along with a fire alarm sounder of sufficient decibels so it can be heard clearly and without misunderstanding anywhere in the room. These systems are controlled from a central panel meaning a fire detected in any part of the building will set off the alarm system allowing for a quick and safe evacuation. The new optical smoke sensors are so sensitive they have been known to set the alarms off when a kettle has boiled underneath them or steam from the bathroom shower has entered the room. Whilst it is good to know that these systems are ultra-efficient it can be a bit of a test when a kettle sets off the fire alarm at 2.00am. Guests were always very apologetic at the time and of course we had some sympathy for them over the first couple of Months of the new installation at Moorbank House back at the beginning of the 2008 season in the time it took us to get the system fine-tuned. Less sympathy was shown to those guests how smoked in their rooms setting off the alarms as yes these smoke detectors even set off the entire alarm system if it detected cigarette smoke.