Today marks 20 years since a dropped match started a blaze at King’s Cross tube station that killed 31 people. Smoking on the sub-surface portions of the Underground had been banned two years before the 1987 fire, but at the time smokers were still allowed to light up on their way out of the station. It’s thought that a smoker’s match fell beneath the wooden escalator and ignited the mixture of grease and rubbish that had built up underneath. Firefighters arrived to find smoke billowing from the exits to the tube and it wasn’t until six hours later that the fire was finally extinguished.
This weekend the BBC is reporting on how victims' families have coped 20 years on, and how one particular recommendation of the investigation into the fire has fared. At the time, Desmond Fennell’s report (available here in PDF) pointed out that emergency services aboveground couldn’t communicate with their colleagues below, and for tube staff, landlines and word of mouth were the only means of spreading word about the fire. After the tube bombings in 2005, a report found that the emergency services still couldn’t communicate between the surface and the tunnels, meaning that progress over two decades has been astonishingly meagre. Thankfully, work is now underway on a system that will link rescuers’ radios above and below ground by the end of 2008, but after poor communications hindered emergency response in the 7/7 bombings and contributed to Jean Charles de Menezes’ shooting at the hands of police, it makes you wonder why it's taken so long to learn a 20-year old lesson.
Image taken from keinepanik's Flickr photostream.