Royal Clarence firefighter: “They were out of their depth.”

Ross Bryant
Ross Bryant

Exeter Fire Officer David Jones was recently the focus of a BBC Spotlight investigation, having questioned the actions of senior fire officers on the site of the Royal Clarence Hotel at the time of the fire which broke out on 28th October 2016.

As an experienced fire officer, David felt compelled to challenge the official account of what happened on the day of the fire. The incident and the events following have driven him towards an early retirement, David describes what happened during the blaze.

“I entered the hotel about five times between 08.00 and 09.30 that morning. A couple of us actually went in to retrieve a women’s bag and passport who had a flight to catch. There was no sign of fire anywhere else in the hotel apart from the areas around and below rooms 401 and 402, it would have been perfectly safe to send firefighters in to try and do something.

The officers in charge between those times were told on more than one occasion that the fire was still burning, but they did nothing, I think they were out of their depth.”

After providing his account to the official report, David was amazed to see that his recollection of events was not included. A statement issued by Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue at the time said that the intense nature of the incident meant that a number statements were inevitably left out of the report.

David believes that much of the evidence was purposely left out. “It was about 2 months after the fire that I was told by the investigating team that two senior officers couldn’t recall being told that there was a fire still burning in the building and the plan I had drawn on at the time was nowhere to be found.

‘I knew the two officers were colluding, you don’t forget conversations like that on the fire ground. Weeks after the fire the incident commander was quite clearly trying to distance himself from me.”

David would soon experience awkward interactions with the officers in question. “When the final report came out and the service were prepared to cover up the truth, I told my seniors I could not work with these officers again. They sent me off sick and sent me for counselling, which I found insulting; I only returned for 2 weeks before I finally left.”

Challenging the official report was a big step but, as David explains, he has received support from his former colleagues and the public.

“After I spoke out I was relieved to receive so much support. I have had loads of messages of support and thanks for getting the truth out there, from members of the public, retired and still serving fire officers. I received a lot of support, especially from some of the fire crews”.

In a statement issued to The Moorlander Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue said “Our firefighters worked extremely hard in very difficult conditions during the Cathedral Yard fire to prevent it spreading further and causing more damage. Fire crews searched the hotel room-to-room to ensure everyone had evacuated safely and then fought the fire from inside the building until the conditions became dangerously unsafe to stay inside the building.

“The decision to withdraw was only made when it was confirmed everyone had safely left the hotel and it would have been dangerous for firefighters to remain inside. Firefighters later re-entered the hotel on at least three more occasions and also fought the fire from inside premises in High Street and St Martin’s Lane to prevent the fire spreading.”

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