The Bradford City Fire disaster will be the subject of this report, whereby I will investigate how the failure to enforce proper fire control and regulation procedure led to the fatality of 56 persons, with hundreds injured.
The disaster occurred on May 11 1985, whereby a flash fire engulfed and destroyed one side of the Valley Parade football stadium during a football match (BBC 2005). The cause of the fire is known to be accidental, by means of a lit cigarette. It is thought that remnants of a lit cigarette had ignited a polystyrene cup it had been stubbed out in. The fire was then fuelled by the litter that had cultivated behind the wooden stands over a sustained period of time (BCC 2005). The fire first became identified by a glowing light, but no evacuation procedure was initiated. Spectators apparently began to feel their feet becoming warmer, and one witness stated he had seen the fire nine inches below the wooden floor boards and yet no safety procedure was instigated. However, attempts by a police officer and spectator to obtain a fire extinguisher were made, but resulted in being unsuccessful, due to none being provided. The fire service was telephoned instead (Wikipedia 2010).
The roof soon caught alight and was made from non-fire resistant materials, such as, wood, tarpaulin, asphalt and bitumen which helped fuel the fire alongside the wind. Intensive burning of materials resulted in, hazards falling in to the spectator arena, and overwhelming plumes of smoke, which was fatal and intoxicating. The time it took the fire to envelop one half of the stadium was approximately four minutes. Many spectators became entrapped by the falling debris and smoke. Additionally the majority of the exits were blocked making escape impossible. Some managed to break down some of the exits, but many were locked with no stewards present to help the evacuation procedure, or unlock the exits. The majority tried to escape via the pitch, which was more successful than those who tried to escape by moving up towards the back of the stands (Wikipedia 2010).
From the original commentary (Youtube 2009) the commentators exclaim that the stadium is indeed on fire. He describes how one stand is on fire and he can see "the orange of the flames" (Youtube 2009). As known, fire can take a hold extremely quickly; however, there seems to have been no vast action to evacuate persons within the facility before the fire became this ferocious. The commentator proceeds to describe how the game has now stopped, but beforehand there was "shaking of fists and a bit of a who-ha at that one end" (Youtube 2009) suggesting that nobody was realising the dangers of the incident at hand, and were more interested in the game. As he continues to speak, you can hear panic in his voice, and that anarchy has given way as people try to escape. In addition, the fire is spreading very quickly, he describes the extent of the smoke and heat coming from the fire and that they should evacuate the facility as well.
It is evident that the incident got out of hand very quickly due to the lack of fire safety and procedure that should have been in place and in addition stewards should have been in place monitoring the spectator's arena at all times for any incident such as this to happen, with previous training in how to deal with such an incident.
Before this incident had taken place, a previous incident in 1972 had prompted recommendations for the safety of sport, thus the Safety of Sports Grounds Act 1975 came to be. This act applied "to all sports grounds with accommodation for spectators" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009) and gave details "about, exits, entrances, means of access, crash barriers and means of escape in case of fire" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009). Furthermore procedures for "the police and building authority representatives to inspect the premises" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009) were set up. In addition it was an offence to not obtain a "safety certificate or for breaking its requirements" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009).
Obviously it is quite clear that Bradford had not enforced any safety procedures or training for its staff, furthermore, the lack of fire extinguishers and unlocked fire exits meant that 56 persons who lost their lives could have potentially been saved, and many more left uninjured.
In avoiding such an incident as described, Bradford should have initiated the following practice. In the building of the stadium the use of flammable materials should have been limited. Those materials that could have been made flame proof with appropriate products should have been made so.
Further, fire extinguishers and fire blankets should have been placed at certain check points around the stadium; this would have limited the burn injuries that occurred. Fire safety instructions visible to the public should have been adequately placed around the stadium; this would have been useful in limiting the anarchy that occurred as the fire spread across the stadium. Wide gangways to the exits should have ensured the requirements of the Safety of Sports Ground Act were met, such as "means of access" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009) "and means of escape in case of fire" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009). In addition, to prevent such an incident happening again, a proportionate amount of exits to the capacity of the venue should have been recommended to ensure as many people would be able to escape.
Furthermore, stewards and security should have been given the appropriate training in fire control and fire safety. This would ensure that these persons would be prepared for such an incident and limit panic and fear. Stewards should also have been assigned to each exit or entrance during the 'game', so if a fire incident was to occur they would have been able to direct persons to their nearest fire exit.
It should have been imperative that all exit routes and doors were unlocked and free from obstruction, before persons entered the facility. Emergency phone lines also should have been set up around the stadium, whereby stewards could either notify a control room/ security or have a direct link to the fire services etc in case of any arising incident that was a threat. Furthermore, close circuit television would be useful in monitoring the stadium in making sure it is a safe environment. Additionally, stewards should be assigned to stands and know approximately how many people are present in that one area for evacuation purposes; perhaps an end of ticket rip off scheme could be implemented to help count the amount of people in that area. Lastly, procedures should be put in to place such as stewards being able to alert the people within the facility that they need to evacuate the premise without causing unnecessary panic, where people can get hurt, for example, not allowing the public to know directly there is a fire.
After the Bradford incident an enquiry was conducted, headed by Sir Oliver Popplewell, it became known as The Popplewell inquiry (J.B. Priestley Library 2001). The inquiry gave rise to new legislation such as "The Fire Safety and Safety of Place of Sports Act 1987, and the revision of the Green Guide issued by the Home Office" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009) Since evidence from the report demonstrated "that there were fire risks, the report recommended that indoor sports facilities also, where 500 or more spectators were provided for, should come under the Fire Precautions Act for fire certificates" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel August 2009).
Concluding, further legislation has been recently released guiding "fire precaution in Places of Sports" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel December 2009) The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. "The order is designed to provide a minimum fire safety standard in all non domestic premises" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel December 2009). Additionally they "are required to carry out certain fire safety duties which include ensuring the general fire precautions are satisfactory and conducting a fire risk assessment" (Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel December 2009). Lastly, "due to the recent changes in the law regarding smoking in enclosed spaces" (Hill and Simpson 2009), smoking has been banned from all public provinces, thus hopefully eliminating any chance of a repeat of this incident.
- BBC On This Day. 2005. 1985: Fans killed in Bradford stadium fire. [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/may/11/newsid_2523000/2523561.stm [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- Hill, D, M, Simpson, Learn: Loughborough University Virtual Learning Environment. 2009. Health and Safety for Performance. [Online] Available: http://learn.lboro.ac.uk/mod/resource/view.php?id=99587 [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- J.B. Priestley Library, University of Bradford Making Knowledge Work. 2001. The papers of the Popplewell inquiry into crowd safety at sports grounds: collection description.[Online] Available at: http://www.brad.ac.uk/library/special/documents/popplecldtempl.pdf [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel, Note For Guidance The fire Safety Advice Centre. 2009. Fire Safety and Safety of Places of Sport. [Online] (Updated 26 August 2009) Available at: http://www.firesafe.org.uk/html/premises/fs&spos.htm [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- Merseyside Fire Liaison Panel, Note For Guidance The fire Safety Advice Centre. 2009. Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. [Online] (Updated 28 December 2009) Available at: http://www.firesafe.org.uk/html/legislation/rrfsord.htm [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- Northgate Arinso employer services. 2009. Health & Safety in Football Stadiums, Responsibility for the safety of spectators lies at all times with the ground management. [Online] (Updated April 2009) Available at: http://www.northgatearinsoemployerservices.com/newsitem_football_stadium_safety.aspx [Accessed 13/01/10]
- Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia. 2010. Bradford City Stadium Fire. [Online] (Updated 12 January 2010) Available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bradford_City_stadium_fire#cite_ref-i361_9-10 [Accessed: 13/01/10].
- Youtube Broadcast Yourself. 2009. Bradford City FC Fire Original Radio Commentary(HQ). [Online] (Updated 08 May 2009) Available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DkTFG9c1QfY [Accessed: 13/01/10]