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Our apprentice firefighters keep journals of their early experiences in Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Here's a selection of their entries to illustrate the variety involved...

National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC): Home Fire Safety Week

This NFCC public awareness campaign focuses on the main risks of fire in the home, appropriate home detection and the behaviours to help mitigate these risks. As a fire service focused on our community, we need to ensure that every person has access to us and knows how to access our services that include a free of charge Home Fire Safety Visit.

A Home Fire Safety Visit is available for anybody who is residing in Hertfordshire, regardless of their tenure or type of property. This includes communities that live in trailers and caravans. In these properties, there are various ignition sources including electric, gas and solid fuel. There could also be limited amounts of sockets in trailers and with the increased use of electrical appliances, this could mean there is a possibility of unsafe electrics and overuse of electrical extension leads.

Which leads us to an incident we recently attended…


Incident details

At 18:33 on the 9th of April 2023, fire engines from Hatfield, Potters Bar and Welwyn Garden City attended a caravan well alight and the fire was spreading.

Apprentice Firefighter Search from Potters Bar who was at the incident said:

“We were mobilised to a caravan fire and on the approach to the incident, we could see large plumes of dark smoke in the distance. We were the first pump in attendance and on arrival, there was one mobile home well alight and fully engulfed in flames and the mobile home adjacent to it was also partially alight.  I began to approach the alight mobile home while fighting the fire and as I was knocking back the fire, I was working my way closer, so I was able to knock it back and get right up to the mobile home. I then proceeded to fight the fire from close range and work my way down the left side of the mobile home towards the back. At this point my breathing apparatus (BA) partner and team lead joined me and proceeded to direct me on what areas to focus on. We also noticed quite a few LPG cylinders towards the back of the mobile home, we did a wet water test to see if the water evaporated checking if they had heated in the fire. We also used the thermal imaging camera (TIC) and they seemed to be unaffected. Once all the flames had been put out, we proceeded to enter the mobile home from the right-hand side and begin the damping down process, applying a lot of water to cool the property down. We also used the TIC to scan and see if there were any particularly hot spots. Afterwards, I had a debrief with my WC on what I saw and if I noticed any foul play or reason to believe arson, I did not see either and relayed that.”

Apprentice Firefighter Pratten from Welwyn Garden City said: 

“On our first night shift we were called to a caravan fire. We were the third pump in attendance and when we arrived our first task was to establish a water supply from the closest hydrant. Between myself and two others we ran out ten lengths of hose to the nearest working hydrant (to put this into context, one length of hose is 25 metres long). Hose ramps were also used as we had to cross a main road. After we had set into the hydrant, me and one other were tasked with looking over one of the individuals that had been in the caravan when it caught fire. We checked the gentleman’s stats and recorded them on a casualty form and then I was tasked with one Apprentice Firefighter Search with damping down the caravan and using the TIC to identify any hot spots. This lasted for 20/30 mins until the Officer in Charge (OIC) was satisfied.

Damping down was interesting as we were also trying to look for a cause for the fire starting. Instead of just focusing on the hot spots we were looking for items within the caravan which could have caused the fire.”

Station Commander Cinato who is Hertfordshire’s Risk Reduction Manager in Fire Prevention also attended the incident: 

“I attended the above incident as part of my role as Flexi Duty Officer, in part due to the number of appliances attending, the potential life risk and risk of escalation. Having liaised with the Officer in Charge (OIC), I was satisfied with their tactical plan, priorities, and resource requirements; the fire had already been suppressed and any further fire spread prevented. All persons had been accounted for, with one adult male suffering smoke inhalation – who received medical attention from HFRS personnel and was subsequently handed over to the ambulance for further treatment and monitoring.

‘In the absence of needing to assume command of the incident, I instead informed the OIC that I would perform the Operational Assurance (OA) role. This role provides opportunity to mentor individuals, monitor performance, identify best practice, any development needs, potential gaps in service policy, equipment deficiencies and identifying any emerging trends or risk critical information that may need communicating further relating to operational response. On this occasion a report was subsequently submitted, praising the Crew for their initial actions, as these inevitably limited the spread of fire and an escalation of the incident.’

‘I’d like to take this opportunity to reiterate the importance of having working smoke detection within domestic dwellings; if this incident had occurred later in the evening, whilst residents slept, it could have had devastating results – over and above the loss of two caravans. The free home fire safety visit will include the free installation of smoke detectors where needed, along with specific advice and guidance on how to remain safe from fire in the home.”


Fire safety in caravans

  • If there is a fire, get out, stay out and call 999.
  • Fit a smoke detector and check it once a week.
  • Use a Gas Safe engineer to check or fix gas heaters.
  • Turn off all appliances before you go to bed.
  • Don’t run electrics from one mobile home to another.
  • Don’t overload plug sockets.
  • Do not leave candles unattended and always make sure candles are secure.
  • Smoke outside rather than inside.
  • Keep matches and lighters out of children’s reach.
  • Use battery-operated candles rather than real candles.
  • Take extra care when cooking with hot oil.
  • Never leave cooking unattended.


Fire safety outside of caravans

  • Try to keep your home at least six metres apart from others (that’s roughly the length of three people standing in a line with their arms out).
  • Find out where your nearest fire hydrant is and keep it clear from overgrown vegetation.
  • Remove any litter and rubbish near the caravan to reduce the risk of fire spreading.


If you do need to call the fire service for a caravan fire

Depending on where your caravan or mobile home is located, it could be hard to reach so make sure you tell the Control Operator:

  • the full address or you can use
  • if access to the fire will be difficult for fire engines
  • if there will be problems accessing water supplies.


It can also be helpful to send someone to meet the Fire and Rescue Service when they arrive.

This incident again shows the importance of having working smoke alarms, testing them regularly and the importance of the Home Fire Safety Visits that are carried out in the local community by the fire service. Book your own Home Fire Safety Visit.


Why a smoke alarm is so important (April 2023)

For our second blog we let you know about Jim, who is a Welwyn Garden City resident and how the smoke alarm Welwyn Garden City had fitted for him, potentially saved his life.


Incident details

At 02:50 hours on Thursday 9 February 2023, two fire engines from Welwyn Garden City and the Hatfield Crew were called to reports of flat fire. Whilst enroute, the Crews were informed that the incident was being upgraded to ‘persons reported’ as the occupant had been seen going back into the property that was on fire.

On arrival, the Officer in Charge (OIC) from Welwyn Garden City Red Watch carried out an initial scene assessment and was met by a neighbour. The neighbour was able to direct the Crews to the affected flat and confirmed what the Crews had been told enroute, that the occupant had re-entered the property. On opening the front door to the communal area, the OIC found it to be smoke logged, so a Breathing Apparatus (BA) team with a hose reel and Thermal Imaging Camera (TIC) were requested.

Whilst the BA Crew were donning their kit, the gentleman from the affected flat appeared at the top of the staircase, and under the guidance of the OIC, was taken to safety where he was administered trauma care by the fire service prior to the arrival of the ambulance.

Once the BA team had entered the property, one of the neighbours exited their property and was also led to safety. The BA team proceeded to extinguish the fire located in the corridor of the first floor flat. Once the fire was extinguished, BA crews checked for any hotspots, cut away burnt areas and ensured there had been no fire spread.


Post incident engagement

Following the incident, Jim wanted to come to Welwyn Garden City Fire Station to thank the Crews for their work and for making sure he was safely removed from his property. Follow up work meant we discovered that Red Watch Welwyn Garden City had initially installed Jim’s smoke alarms and carried out a full home fire safety visit. A couple of years later, due to a low battery in the smoke alarm, Blue Watch Welwyn Garden City replaced the smoke alarm and ensured that the initial home fire safety check still met Jim’s needs.

Jim told the Crew at the station that it was the smoke alarms that woke him up and meant he subsequently found a fire in his hallway, Jim said “if the smoke alarm you fitted had not gone off, I would not have woken up”.

This incident shows the importance of having working smoke alarms, testing them regularly and the importance of the home fire safety checks that are carried out in the local community by the fire service. Book your own Home Fire Safety Check


2 top tips to keep you safe

March is smoke alarm month (March 2023)

For our first blog, we're covering the importance of having a working smoke alarm. We supply and fit smoke alarms free of charge

In the following case, a working smoke alarm prevented a kitchen fire spreading and alerted the resident so they could escape. We spoke to Firefighter Kempster who joined Welwyn Garden City Fire Station in December 2022 after spending 16 weeks at our training centre in Stevenage.

Firefighter Kempster's first month at Welwyn Garden City

This is one of the first property fires that Firefighter Kempster attended. He said:

"We got tipped out to a kitchen fire in Codicote, along with Stevenage. We arrived ten seconds behind Stevenage so we were backing them up in this incident. Stevenage’s BA (Breathing Apparatus) team did initial deployment and went into the building with a TIC (Thermal Imaging Camera) and hosereel.

Once BAECO (Breathing Apparatus Entry Control Officer) was established, me and my BA partner donned up and did our buddy checks. We went through BAECO and round to the back garden to attack the fire from the back garden. We put out a small fire underneath the windowsill where the window had fallen out of the frame and there were wooden boards. We extinguished the external fire and any hotspots we identified on the TIC.

Once the fire was extinguished inside the kitchen by Stevenage’s BA team, me and my BA leader got bolt croppers and a haligan bar to remove the window which was being held on by the metal framework. Once the window was removed, we could move the wooden boards to a safe location. We then serviced our sets and took some water onboard.

The property owner was in a wheelchair and had been given a blanket and taken to a location of safety. I then put on a Sundstrom mask and entered the property with a ceiling hook. Me and my crew ensured none of the insulation above the ceiling was alight or glowing on the TIC. The damage was only in the kitchen and the fire hadn’t affected the loft space.

We could see a clear smoke layer on the walls where the smoke had been, in the kitchen and throughout the downstairs area. We isolated the electrics in a kitchen cupboard and were satisfied the scene was safe. We had to wait for the boarding up company to arrive to secure the property as the back window was removed. Whilst we waited, we did some home fire safety checks with neighbouring properties.

I learnt about our fire duties post incident and I learnt about checking for heat above the ceiling in the insulation."

Top tips to avoid a kitchen fire

  • Accidents will always happen so ensure you have a working smoke detector.
  • Take extra care if you need to leave the kitchen whilst cooking, take pans off the heat or turn them down to avoid risk.
  • Avoid cooking when under the influence of alcohol.
  • Avoid leaving children in the kitchen alone when cooking on the hob. Keep matches and sauce pan handles out of their reach to keep them safe.
  • Make sure saucepan handles don't stick out – so they don't get knocked off the stove.
  • Take care if you're wearing loose clothing – they can easily catch fire.
  • Keep tea towels and cloths away from the cooker and hob.
  • Spark devices are safer than matches or lighters to light gas cookers, because they don't have a naked flame.
  • Double check the cooker is off when you've finished cooking.


Take care with electrics

  • Keep electrics (leads and appliances) away from water.
  • Check toasters are clean and placed away from curtains and kitchen rolls.
  • Keep the oven, hob and grill clean and in good working order. A build-up of fat and grease can ignite a fire.
  • Don't put anything metal in the microwave.


Deep fat frying

  • Take care when cooking with hot oil – it sets alight easily.
  • Use clean oil without food debris from previous use.
  • Make sure food is dry before putting it in hot oil so it doesn't splash.
  • If the oil starts to smoke – it's too hot. Turn off the heat and leave it to cool.
  • Use a thermostat controlled electric deep fat fryer. They can't overheat.
  • If a pan catches fire:
    • don't take risks. Turn off the heat if it's safe to do so. Never throw water over it
    • don't tackle the fire yourself. Get out, call 999 and ask for the fire service.

If you are unsure of anything fire safety related for yourself, a friend or loved one, visit: Home Fire Safety Checks.

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