Families evacuated after false alarm

FAMILIES in St Neots faced a midnight evacuation of their homes last week as 50 fire-fighters and seven fire engines and three specialist appliances responded to an automatic alarm at a Cromwell Road factory at 11pm on Wednesday. St Neots Leisure Centre w

FAMILIES in St Neots faced a midnight evacuation of their homes last week as 50 fire-fighters and seven fire engines and three specialist appliances responded to an automatic alarm at a Cromwell Road factory at 11pm on Wednesday.

St Neots Leisure Centre was set up as a rest centre with staff on site fully prepared and ready to deal with an evacuation within an hour, as Huntingdonshire District Council's rehearsed emergency plan swung into action. In the event, after the police helicopter failed to detect any seat of fire in the Darex UK factory, the arrangements were stood down at 4am.

The fire service said crews were wary about the presence of thousands of litres of petroleum spirit on the premises, and trains on the East Coast main line were stopped to reduce the risk of a spark from the 25 kiloVolt igniting a suspected vapour cloud.

Firefighters with gas detection equipment found no one trapped inside and no sign of fire, even though foam extinguishers had deployed automatically.


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Dave Warren, fire service incident commander, said: "This was a rather unusual incident because of the size of the premises and its in-built fire protection system, designed to protect both its workers and members of the public from any hazard in the case of an emergency.

"Whenever the automatic fire alarm sounds, the building automatically closes down and a large quantity of foam is released to prevent a fire developing.

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"When we arrived at the building, we could not initially confirm that what had happened inside. Because the building had sealed itself, we had to be careful to make the necessary safety checks before we could begin to search and ventilate the building.

"Our first task was to make a risk assessment of the incident, which we did in conjunction with the police, local authority, the ambulance service, the Environment Agency, the site occupiers and our scientific adviser. We were greatly helped by the police helicopter, which was able to over fly the site and asses the situation using with its thermal image camera.

"Once we were able to gain access, we began a detailed search to establish that nobody was trapped and to find the cause of the automatic fire alarm. Investigations will continue for the rest of the day. We know that there was neither a fire nor a leak inside the premises."

The fire service later confirmed that there had been a fault with the foam sprinkler system at the premises.

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