Fire may have spread up dumb waiter, says chief

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THE blaze that ripped through Cupola House may have spread rapidly via the dumb waiter and other voids in the building, Suffolk’s deputy chief fire officer Mark Hardingham has said.

“It is difficult to get into the building so the majority of our investigation is about talking to people that were there,” he said.

“Certainly the nature of that building means there is a number of voids and lots of opportunity for fire to spread quite easily and that is what a dumb waiter is, a void, a chimney through the building.

“While we had firefighters inside the building fighting the fire, we also had firefighters watching the building for signs of fire spread.

“We saw the fire popping out of the third and fourth floor and made the decision to withdraw firefighters as the building was showing signs of structural instability.”

That decision came at around 11pm. Although some debris fell beforehand the main collapse happened at around 2am.

Police were called to the incident at the same time as the fire service and set up a cordon around the area.

The next morning saw the fire service meet with St Edmundsbury Borough Council’s emergency planning unit.

Deputy chief Hardingham said contacting the owners of the building on a Sunday proved quite challenging and the decision was made to launch the recovery phase on Monday.

That started with a meeting with around a dozen different agencies including the borough and Suffolk County Council, structural engineers business organisations as well as shops that had been affected.

Although the fire service handed over the operation to the borough council on Tuesday afternoon, a fire engine has remained on site at all times, while the fire service’s latest bit of kit, an appliance called the Multistar, has been back inspecting the site every four to six hours.

The £500,000 appliance, which has only been in full operation for two months, was being used for its first major incident.

“It has been absolutely fantastic,” said deputy chief Hardingham.

Unlike old turntable ladders which can only swing left or right, the Multistar has a cage which can carry three firefighters at the end of a hinged arm.

Deputy chief Hardingham said this meant firefighters could get closer to buildings and was more effective and safer.

It was also used to show English Heritage and the media the damage at the Cupola.