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Fire service highlights relative’s story of Sheffield firefighter killed in 1940 blitz

South Yorkshire’s fire service is highlighting the story of a firefighting hero killed during the Sheffield Blitz- exactly 80 years after the events which took his life.

Frederick Parkes Spencer was the only permanent, full time Police Fireman – as they were then known – to have been killed when thousands of tons of explosives were dropped on Sheffield on the night of 12 and 13 December 1940.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has already honoured Frederick by naming one of the conference rooms at its Eyre Street headquarters in his memory.

Division Street drill yard

The room is just a stone’s throw from where Frederick lost his life on Charles Street, when the Empire Theatre received a direct hit from a German bomb.

One of his relatives, Anne Whiteley, has been researching the story of her mum’s cousin.

Anne said: “The night of the Blitz- a Thursday evening, 12 of December- had been half day closing, so Sheffield was busy, as it had always been a popular night for going out to the clubs, theatres, cinemas and dance halls. At the City Hall a dance was in progress. The entertainment at The Empire Theatre that evening was Henry Hall and his Orchestra”.

“The `take cover` warning was sounded at 7pm and enemy planes were soon overhead, attacking the city centre. Stationed and living at the service headquarters at Division Street, Frederick Parkes Spencer was on active duty that night, with all his colleagues”.

“Crews from Division Street, reinforced by part-time crews from Sheffield`s auxiliary fire stations were quickly in the city centre, and were attending the fires caused by the first wave of `marker` incendiaries when the second wave of enemy bombers arrived.”

Empire Theatre following the bombing

Over 500 telephone calls were received at the Fire Station Control Room. At 12.42 am on 13th December, Sheffield Police Fire Brigade requested assistance from Sheffield Transport Department and neighbouring fire brigades. In response, 50 pumps were sent from as far away as Birmingham, Manchester and York. Pumps also arrived from 20 towns.

The outside help eventually extended to over 70 pumps and 522 men. The most intense bombardment was between 10.30pm and 2.15am on 12 and 13 December, continuing for a total of nine hours.

Codenamed Operation Crucible by the Germans, these raids saw hundreds of Heinkel 111, Dornier 17 and Junker 88 drop many thousands of tons of explosives on Sheffield. Mains water supplies ran out quite quickly and needed to be relayed from public baths and even the river Don.

The Empire Theatre on Charles Street was hit by a bomb, and had received severe structural damage, was on fire, and in danger of collapse. Frederick was entering the theatre to try to check and clear the building of persons remaining inside, but he and Auxiliary Fireman Stanley Slack, age 29, who lived at Hermitage Street, Moorfoot, both died at the scene.

Anne said: “Frederick was 36 years old and the only permanent and full-time Police Fireman to die in the Blitz. Police Firemen had powers to arrest offenders and jail them if necessary, hence the cells which can still be seen at the National Emergency Services Museum, in Sheffield”.

“Frederick’s parents, and younger brother, Jack, were living at Bradway Road at the time. Jack Spencer, on leave from the Navy in Singapore, was only able to identify him from his brass helmet and the number `2` on his uniform, as he was so badly injured. This helmet and his posthumous award for bravery were later donated by Jack, and put on display at The National Emergency Services Museum”.

“However, Edna, his wife, had to vacate their flat at the Division Street headquarters and return to live with her parents close to Woodhouse cemetery where she buried Frederick,  his headstone simply stating `died as a result of enemy action`. Sheffield City Council Watch Committee of 19 December 1940 awarded her a pension of £78pa under the provisions of The Police Pensions Act 1921 and The Police and Fireman War Service Act 1939.”

Chief Fire Officer Alex Johnson, said: “As the events of World War II begin to fade from living memory, we believe it’s even more important than ever to tell the stories of people like Frederick Parkes Spencer and all the other men and women who lost their lives trying to protect Sheffield, its buildings and its people.”

Following The Sheffield Blitz further raids were mounted by The Luftwaffe. However, none of them matched the intensity and loss of life that occurred on 12/13 and 15 December 1940.

You can find out more about the contribution of the work of firefighters during the Sheffield Blitz by searching The Sheffield Fire Brigade website edited by Edward Mullins, and visiting the National Emergency Services Museum on West Bar in the city.

Fire safety team to inspect all high-rise residential buildings across South Yorkshire

A team of fire safety inspectors is embarking on an ambitious project to inspect all high-rise residential buildings across South Yorkshire, over 18 metres or with six or more storeys, by the end of next year.

This comes as part of a Government-driven ‘Building Risk Review’ programme that seeks to ‘significantly increase’ the pace of high-rise residential inspection activity across the country.

Made up of staff from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s (SYFR) business safety department, the specialist team has been funded by a specific Government grant.

As part of their work, the team will be contacting the responsible person for each high-rise residential building across South Yorkshire to arrange an inspection to assess the fire safety measures in place.

“Our aim, between now and the end of next year, is to physically inspect every high rise residential building in South Yorkshire,” said SYFR Area Manager, Simon Dunker, who is head of the service’s prevention and protection departments.

“We hope this work will provide reassurance to residents we are continuing to work to effect changes identified by the Grenfell inquiry and that resident safety remains our priority. We will work with building owners and managers to ensure any necessary work is carried out.”

Whilst this project is specifically targeted at residential buildings over 18 metres in height or with six or more storeys, inspectors are keen to stress all responsible persons should ensure they are fully aware of their fire safety responsibilities.

The service’s inspection officers, who are not directly involved in this project, will continue to inspect all buildings across South Yorkshire regardless of height.

Further information about the Building Risk Review project, and your fire safety responsibilities, can be found at www.syfire.gov.uk/business-advice.

Fire service wins global award for South Yorkshire flooding recovery

The fire service’s recovery from flooding which hit South Yorkshire last autumn has been recognised with a major international award.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue was awarded ‘Most Effective Recovery’ at the Business Continuity Institute’s Global Awards.

The award- presented to the service’s Resilience, Planning and Contingencies team at a virtual ceremony- recognises organisations which have effectively managed major incidents.

The fire service rescued more than 300 people and pumped away an estimated 363 million litres of flood water when heavy rainfall caused severe flooding in parts of Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham in November 2019.

It also coordinated the efforts of fire and rescue services and other agencies who arrived from all over the UK to support the local effort.

Area Manager Stewart Nicholson, said: “The flooding which devastated so many parts of our county in 2019 will live long in the memory for many people and sadly it continues to affect the lives of those who were most severely affected. However, we are pleased that our work to plan for, respond to and ultimately recover from such an event has been acknowledged in this way. It provides much needed recognition to our staff who work so hard behind the scenes.”

The BCI Awards honour business continuity and resilience professionals and organizations worldwide. The global awards are the most prestigious event in the business continuity calendar.

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue represented Europe, overcoming competition from organisations from five other regions to win the award.

Sheffield building owner fined after failing to provide cladding info to fire inspectors

A Sheffield building owner has been fined after obstructing the work of fire safety inspectors.

Mr Gunes Ata, trading as Noble Design & Build, was found guilty by Sheffield Magistrates Court of failing, without reasonable excuse, to comply with requirements imposed by an inspector from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue.

Mr Ata did not attend the hearing on Wednesday (18 November) and did not enter a plea, but the court heard the case in his absence.

Evidence presented by the fire service showed that Mr Ata had failed to provide information relating to the external cladding of one of his buildings within the timescales requested by inspectors. This information was later provided and the cladding in question at London Court on Beeley Street was removed.

The Court ordered Mr Ata be fined £660, to pay a victims surcharge of £66 and to pay full costs of £1177.

Area Manager Simon Dunker, said: “Fire safety laws are designed to keep people safe- nothing more, nothing less. Whilst our building safety inspectors always try to engage positively with building owners and responsible persons, we will also make no hesitation in prosecuting those who persistently obstruct our work.”

For more information on business fire safety laws, visit www.syfire.gov.uk/business-advice

Two weeks left to have say on fire service plans

There’s just over two weeks left for people to have their say on draft plans published by South Yorkshire’s fire service – including proposals for how quickly it should respond to different types of emergency.

Have your say here

South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue says it will still aim to attend every single 999 call as quickly as it possibly can, but that having a set of published response times will make it more accountable to local people, help it to improve its service and bring them in line with most other services around the country.

Currently the service simply aims to get to all emergencies as fast as it can, every time. A national inspection reported that it was undesirable for the service not to have a set of response standards.

The proposed new response time arrangements will take into account whether a person’s life is at risk, as well as the level of risk in different parts of the county based on historical incident data and other information.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer Chris Kirby said: “Adopting a more risk based approach allows us to ensure we are placing resources in the right places at the right time to best protect the communities we serve. This includes the work we do around preventing fires, protecting buildings and responding to incidents when they do occur.

“We will still aim to get to each emergency as fast as we can, but having a set of response times means we can measure our performance to ensure we are delivering the best possible service to our communities with the resources we have available to us.”

The response time proposals follow initial consultation with more than 3,000 local people and a thorough analysis of the different risks faced by the fire service in South Yorkshire.

They form part of the service’s latest draft ‘Integrated Risk Management Plan’. This is a plan which explains the different risks in South Yorkshire how the fire service intends to address them with the resources it has available.

The draft plan was discussed by members of the service’s governing Fire Authority on Monday (14 September), who instructed the service to begin a further period of consultation with staff and the public.

The consultation period closes on 4 December.

Stark warning from man left with severe burns after garden fire disaster

A man from Sheffield, who set himself on fire when using petrol on his seemingly unlit garden fire, is urging people not to follow in his footsteps and make the same mistake.

Paul Wyatt, 50, was burning hedge trimmings in his garden earlier this year. He put paper on the bottom and hedge trimmings on top, before adding a match, which didn’t light the fire.

He decided to apply a drop of petrol, planning to step back and throw a match on. Unbeknown to him, the original match was still smouldering.

Immediately after pouring the fuel onto the fire, the oil drum he was burning his garden waste in ‘went up light a jet engine’ and set his upper body on fire.

Later that evening he was placed into an induced coma at the Northern General Hospital, with his face burnt and swelling, and doctors concerned about damage to his airways.

He has since made a good recovery but now has to use cream on his burns four times a day, has to wear factor 30 sun cream for a year and has nerve damage to his hands.

Paul, and his wife Ann, now hope that by sharing their story, they can prevent this happening to other people in the future.

“Having spoken to our friends, family and colleagues since the accident, it seems it’s a really common thing to use petrol to fuel a fire,” said Paul, who has to now do exercises to stretch his skin.

“The injuries I have will be with me for the rest of my life, but I know how lucky I am – the hospital staff said it was a good job I didn’t breathe in whilst my head was on fire as I could have damaged my airways and paid a much bigger price.

“I’ll certainly never add any kind of accelerant to a fire again and I’d really urge other people not to make the same mistake I did – it really isn’t worth it.”

Paul’s warning is being supported and echoed by fire officers from South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue, as part of their latest Operation Dark Nights bonfire campaign.

“We always tell people not to use accelerants on bonfires, in fact more recently we’re asking people not to have bonfires at all, and what happened to Paul is exactly why,” said Station Manager Steve Jones, who helps lead the joint police and fire community safety department.

“When it comes to petrol, even the vapours can set alight, and make the fire spread rapidly to the person holding the can. In this incident, it only took a split second and the top half of Paul’s body was totally ablaze.

“Ideally people won’t be having garden fires over the coming weeks but, if you must, don’t even think about adding an accelerant and make sure those you care about don’t, either.”

Bonfire and firework advice

Bonfires

If you’re planning to have a bonfire at any time, but particularly during this firework period, please follow some simple safety guides to help you, your family, pets and wildlife stay safe.

Building your bonfire

  • Build your bonfire well away from, and clear of, buildings, garden sheds, fences, hedges and overhanging branches
  • Keep it to a manageable size and evenly built, so that it collapses inwards as it burns
  • Do not include plastics, household items or rubber in your fire

Lighting your bonfire

  • It is dangerous to use flammable liquids to help start a bonfire such as petrol or kerosene, use firelighters.
  • Do not burn dangerous items such as aerosol cans, paint tins, foam furniture or batteries
  • Do not throw anything in the fire
  • Tell neighbours you are going to have a bonfire to avoid non-essential 999 calls

Double check

  • The bonfire’s construction is still sound before lighting it
  • There are no children or wildlife hiding in the fire
  • No hazardous items such as aerosols, sealed cans or fireworks have been thrown onto it

Remember

  • Never leave bonfires unattended – we recommend a bonfire should be supervised by an adult until it has burnt out
  • Once you are finished with the bonfire, dampen it down fully with water making sure that the embers are extinguished and surroundings are made safe before leaving
  • Keep a bucket of water or hosepipe nearby in case of an emergency
  • If the bonfire becomes out of control and catches foliage or property alight – call 999 immediately
  • If your clothes catch fire remember to STOP, DROP and ROLL and cool burns under running water for at least 20 minutes

Fireworks

Fireworks are something that can be enjoyed by all the family, but should be used safely, carefully and lawfully. Have a person dedicated to lighting your fireworks who is over 18 and remember that alcohol and fireworks do not mix.

If you are planning on having a firework display, you can help to avoid an emergency and/or upset by following our top tips:

  • Ensure the firework is the correct way up and secure – light at arms length using a taper and stand well back
  • Keep fireworks in a closed box away from the lighting location
  • Only buy fireworks that are CE marked and follow the instructions
  • Never go back to a firework that has been lit and don’t throw them or put them in your pocket
  • Keep pets indoors and let your neighbours know you’re having a display
  • Stick to the law – you can’t set off fireworks in public places and can’t set them off between 11pm and 7am – except for Bonfire Night when the cut off is midnight

Sparklers

  • Supervise children with sparklers at all times
  • Stick the end in a halved carrot to make it easier for little hands to hold
  • Light one sparkler at a time and wear gloves
  • Keep a bucket of water or sand nearby for used sparklers
  • Let them fully cool before throwing them away

Useful information

Working Together on Firework Displays – The Blue Firework Guide –  This guide is specifically intended for organisers of firework displays, or events where fireworks are to be used, where the display is setup, fired and derigged by a professional display company and professional display companies as the basic information to enable them to communicate effectively with an event organiser to achieve a safe and effective display.

Giving Your Own Firework Display – The Red Firework Guide – The advice in this publication covers only those firework displays, normally at pubs, clubs or charity gatherings, where the organisers set off the fireworks themselves and have no specialist knowledge.

Emergency services issue guidance ahead of ‘different’ bonfire period

South Yorkshire’s emergency services are urging people to be sensible and stay safe over the coming weeks, during what they say will be a ‘very different’ bonfire period for everyone.

Trick or treating is being discouraged, in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19, as are Halloween and bonfire parties that break the current social distancing rules set out by the Government.

Meanwhile, firefighters are asking people to take extra care with fireworks and to avoid having garden bonfires that could grow out of control and tie up fire service resources.

The guidance comes as part of Operation Dark Nights – a campaign that is run jointly by the county’s three emergency services each year.

“We know how much people look forward to Halloween and the bonfire period, and clearly we don’t want to spoil the party after a tough year, but it’s so important that people stay safe,” said South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue’s Station Manager Steve Jones, who helps lead the joint police and fire community safety department.

“With big, organised bonfire and firework displays being cancelled across the county, we expect people will be tempted to do their own. This is fine, but we do ask that people be sensible and take note of our advice around this.”

“Firstly, we really don’t want people be having garden bonfires. They spread so easily and tie up our resources. However, if you must have one, keep it away from trees, sheds and fences, and never use petrol or other accelerants to get it going.

“Secondly, if you’re going to use fireworks, only use genuine ones, follow the manufacturer’s instructions and, please, be sensible. Also, remember there are laws around when you can and can’t set them off.

“Last, but not least, is a plea around helping stop the spread of coronavirus. Please ensure you stick to the current laws and guidance. We all need to keep doing our bit and not use Bonfire Night as an excuse to let our guards down.”

Traditionally, staff from both the police and fire service have visited schools to talk to children about anti-social behaviour, trick or treating, fireworks and all things Bonfire Night. These visits won’t be taking place this year, due to the pandemic.

However, a joint effort between both agencies means that school pupils will still be getting vital input on these subjects. Instead of visiting each school, firefighters and police officers have filmed a series of videos that will be played in classrooms across South Yorkshire.

South Yorkshire Police Superintendent Sarah Poolman said: “We know this year will be different for everyone, but we want to ensure that however you celebrate, you are safe.

“It is important that whilst celebrating we don’t forget about Covid-19 and remember that we all still have a responsibility to keep each other safe.

“Your neighbourhood officers will be on patrol in the evenings to tackle any anti-social behaviour and breaches of the Covid-19 guidelines.

“As we increase our patrols, please remember that this is an extremely busy time for officers and call takers in the control room. We are asking our communities to think before you call 999 or 101.

“We have to prioritise the calls coming in to ensure our officers can respond to the most time critical and serious of incidents. We are asking those reporting a non-emergency crime do so through the online reporting form on our website.”

Speaking on behalf of Yorkshire Ambulance Service, Locality Manager, Jeremy Seymour, said: “The volume of work for Yorkshire Ambulance Service has significantly increased over the last two weeks and this has been reflected in the change to the local COVID Alert level this week in South Yorkshire.

“The Ambulance Service, as well as all local hospitals, are working extremely hard to provide the services everyone needs and deserves. We will continue to provide the emergency pre hospital care and support whenever and wherever we are needed.

“Please help us to protect you and the people closest to you by continuing to follow the advice given and support the Ambulance service to concentrate on those most in need.”

Fire service exhibition goes digital to mark Black History Month

South Yorkshire’s fire service is taking its one-of-a-kind Black History Month exhibition online this October, in a bid to attract more people from BAME backgrounds to consider a fire and rescue service career.

Family, which was put together last year to pay homage to the diverse heritage of fire service staff, features portrait photographs of 11 employees past and present.

The portraits were exhibited at various locations across Sheffield last October – including the train station, Winter Gardens and Moor Market – inspiring a huge increase in people from African and Caribbean backgrounds registering their interest in a career with the service.

And now, ahead of this year’s Black History Month, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue is taking the exhibition online to showcase the photographs in a COVID-safe way.

One thing that does remain the same, fire officers say, is the aim – to celebrate the contribution of staff and encourage more people, with diverse heritage, to consider a job within the fire service.

“We were keen to showcase the exhibition once again this year, following the fantastic reaction we had last year, but sadly most of the public places we had in mind are either closed or extremely quiet,” said Station Manager Delroy Galloway, who features in the exhibition and played a crucial role in pulling it together.

“However, fire services are used to having to adapt, and that’s what we have done. I’m delighted that we’re still going to be able to showcase the wonderful images and tell the stories of the people behind them.

“We want to show people from BAME backgrounds that a career in the fire and rescue service could be for them, and I’d really encourage anyone thinking about it to check out the digital exhibition, get inspired and register their interest with us today.”

Each of the portraits featured on the website were taken by Orestes Rix, a member of the service’s finance team who specialises in portrait photography outside his day job.

Click here to see the online exhibition, which includes the photographs and additional detail around why Black History Month is so important.

Have your say on draft risk management plan

South Yorkshire’s fire service wants people to have their say on its draft Integrated Risk Management Plan 2021-24.

This is a plan which explains how the fire service will keep local people safe over the next few years.

You can read a PDF of our draft Integrated Risk Management Plan 2021 to 2024 here or view it as HTML here

You can have your say on the plan using our online survey here

Amongst the issues we want your views on is our expected response times for different types of incident, which have been published in the draft plan.

We will still aim to attend every single 999 call as quickly as we possibly can, but that having a set of published response times will make us more accountable to local people, help us to improve our service and bring us in line with most other services around the country.

Currently we simply aim to get to all emergencies as fast as we can, every time. A national inspection reported that it was undesirable for the service not to have a set of response standards.

The proposed new response time arrangements take into account whether a person’s life is at risk, as well as the level of risk in different parts of the county based on historical incident data and other information.

The results of the consultation will be considered before a final version of the Integrated Risk Management Plan 2021-24 is presented to the Fire Authority in January.