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Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Flixborough incident, one of the most devastating industrial incidents in local, if not national, history.

Firefighters at Flixborough

On 1 June 1974 at 4.53 pm, 7 minutes before White Watch were due to end their day shift, there was an explosion at the NYPRO UK Ltd chemical plant in Flixborough, North Lincolnshire. The blast could be felt as far as 30 miles away and approximately 90% of the large industrial plant was destroyed as well severely damaging nearby buildings that resulted in 200 families becoming homeless. It tragically resulted in the loss of 28 lives and left 105 workers injured.

Firefighters from Scunthorpe were the first to respond, arriving within nine minutes of the call and witnessing a huge plume of smoke as they travelled to the incident. As they approached, the call escalated from 5 fire engines when they were four miles out, to 10 fire engines at two miles, and finally to 20 fire engines upon reaching the site entrance.

Gordon Parratt, the first Sub Officer (Watch Manager) on scene, described how they established a control point as firefighters conducted searches for survivors. He also briefed the Deputy Chief Officer about concerns over water supplies needed to prevent a potential explosion at the nearby Normanby Park Steelworks, thankfully this was adverted. Humberside firefighters were joined by colleagues from Lincolnshire, West Yorkshire, and Nottinghamshire Fire Services until the incident was closed at 6 pm on 21 June 1974.

Former Watch Manager at Brough Fire Station, Ian Johnson, who retired from the Service in 2023 after serving 50 years, recalled, "I was six months into the job and remember being at home and hearing a huge bang. I went outside and saw a large plume of smoke in the air across the Humber and decided it would be best to head to the station. The incident lasted three weeks and it was a year’s worth of experience condensed into a short amount of time."

During the 21 days, 239 firefighters and 15 officers attended the incident 24/7. Two workers were rescued by firefighters and 16 firefighters were injured, mainly from acid burns.

A memorial service is being held at the Flixborough Village Hall and will be attended by current and former members of the fire service and other emergency services, members of the local community, including families of those who lost their lives, former plant workers, and local officials. The ceremony includes a moment of silence, the laying of wreaths to remember the lives lost and changed forever.

Chief Fire Officer, Phil Shillito, shared his thoughts on the legacy of the incident: "Our predecessors faced an unprecedented challenge on that day. The bravery and quick thinking they demonstrated saved many lives and highlighted the critical role of emergency services in managing incidents. I am proud that former and current colleagues will join me at today’s memorial service, paying tribute to the heroic work by colleagues, remembering the lives that were lost and the impact this incident has had on former workers and the community.

Uncertainty is an integral part of a firefighter’s job and without doubt, not only are no two days the same, but firefighters do not know what to expect when ‘the bells go down’ for the next incident."

"An essential part of a firefighter’s role is training so they are prepared, with no notice, to respond to a variety of incidents. We and our colleagues from fire services across the country, and globally, continue to learn and share experiences from incidents to improve our knowledge and skills, so we can continue to provide an outstanding response to our communities.”