Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service

One Year on from Bank Buildings Fire NIFRS Reflects on the Incident

On the anniversary of the Bank Buildings fire in Belfast, Northern Ireland Fire & Rescue Service (NIFRS) has thanked Firefighters, support staff, partner agencies and the community for their response and support during the incident.

At 11am on 28 August 2018, NIFRS received a call to attend the fire.   What unfolded over the following 4 days saw over 300 Firefighters working tirelessly to extinguish the blaze, prevent fire spread to adjacent buildings and prevent loss of life or injury. The multi-agency response resulted in the new thirty thousand square foot rear section of Bank Buildings (formerly known as Common Wealth House) being protected, with Primark opening for business before Christmas 2018.

During the incident NIFRS also mobilised 351 Fire Appliances to more than 250 other incidents across Northern Ireland ensuring normal service delivery and public safety was maintained across this challenging timeframe.

Reflecting on the incident one year on, the Officer in Charge, Area Commander Aidan Jennings said: 

“Like many people the 28 August and the 4 days that followed will remain with me forever.  I will remember this incident for the expertise, resilience and dedication of Firefighters and staff right across NIFRS as well as the outpouring of kindness, generosity and public – spiritedness.  This underpinned and helped reinforce our operational response to this incident.  As ever the resilience of the people of Belfast was matched by the action and support they offered.

“At the height of the incident over 100 Firefighters, 14 Fire Appliances, including 6 Specialist Appliances were involved in tackling the blaze. Firefighters from as far away as Armagh and Kilrea responded to the incident with both Wholetime and On-Call personnel, being brought in from other Area Commands to attend the incident and provide resilience in Belfast during this time.

“Coupled with this were scores of people working and supporting this huge operation behind the scenes within our Regional Control Centre, Operations Support, Transport Department and other support functions. We worked with our colleagues across other emergency services, government and public sector bodies, as well as the business community and voluntary sector to bring the incident to a conclusion and protect the safety of the public and our Firefighters.

“The size, scope and intensity of this fire provided many challenges and I can vividly recall that iconic image of the clock in Bank Buildings burning and the impact that had on our personnel working so hard to save the building.

“On a number of occasions that afternoon Firefighters had to be withdrawn from internal firefighting operations within the building to prevent injury or loss of life due to escalating fire conditions and collapsing structure. Thankfully we were able to re-enter and establish the fire break within the protected staircases

“Working in extra ordinary and challenging circumstances Firefighters protected this area and are to be highly commended for their diligent efforts in preventing the fire spreading allowing the refurbished rear extension of the building and adjacent properties to be saved.

“Primark staff must also be commended for their swift action in evacuating the building prior to the arrival of Firefighters. Their actions undoubtedly helped save lives that day enabling the first responding crews to focus on dealing with the developing blaze.”

“An incident of this scale, whilst thankfully unusual, gave us the opportunity to put into practice our tried and tested response and resilience plans. I am confident that these plans along with the multi-agency relationships established over many years through Belfast Emergency Preparedness Group played a significant part in the resolution of this incident.

“Earlier this year we completed an extensive investigation report in conjunction with the Health and Safety Executive which determined that the cause of the fire was accidental.

“In large part due to our work in fire prevention and safety, large incidents like the Bank Buildings fire are rare. However, if they do occur, NIFRS is always prepared to respond quickly and effectively. Our contingency plans and resilience built into our operational response ensures that as a fire and rescue service we are always ready to respond to any incident across Northern Ireland.”

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