It seemed like a standard Monday evening at Vue Cinemas in Scunthorpe. Popcorn, nachos, buckets of cola and a screening of the new feel-good festive movie 'Last Christmas'.
As the credits rolled, a 999 call was made to Humberside Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) to report a fire in the projection room and smoke spreading into Screen 4. Thankfully it was an exercise organised by HFRS and the management at Vue to test procedures in the event of a real fire.
All of the audience had volunteered to be involved in the mass evacuation after the film which Vue had kindly put on for free. Cinema staff and the first fire crews on the scene from nearby Scunthorpe Fire Station safely escorted the few dozen members of the public to safety through the fire exits and down on to street level.
Officers from Humberside Police ensured they were moved back to a safe distance and out of the way of more firefighters arriving from stations across North Lincolnshire.
In total, eight engines attended the 'incident' and crews were then further tested by cinema staff who let them know that there were five people unaccounted for - presumably overcome by smoke and still in the auditorium.
BA crews were sent in to Screen 4 which was now in total darkness for a more realistic and challenging search and rescue. The layout of the space was analysed before entering in pairs to check every row seat by seat. The five 'casualties' were successfully located and brought out to street level swiftly for medical assessment.
Scunthorpe Blue Watch Manager Tim Theaker was delighted with how the evening had gone:
'It has taken a long time to organise an exercise of this scale and thanks must go to Vue for allowing us to use their cinema and to the volunteers and Humberside Police who added a sense of realism to the evacuation. Sometimes the human factor of having a large number of people exiting a building as we arrive to enter can't easily be simulated, but the volunteers were really patient with us and seemed to enjoy the experience.
'In reality, if this incident were to happen for real, there would be other factors to consider, but what was key tonight was the crews getting familiar with the layout of the building itself, location of fire hydrants in the street, where we could safely set up our entry control board [pictured] and get used to the unique seating plan of each screen.'
Vue's Manager Jim Pogson saw the benefits for his staff as well as the Fire Service:
'I was very impressed with the whole operation. It was really interesting to see how they evacuated our customers and what considerations go into fighting a fire and locating casualties. It is important for our staff to be aware of what they would ask from us in a situation like that.
'The whole exercise was seamless with zero disruption to the running of the cinema. The evacuation went smoothly and we would be happy to work with any of the crews in the future if they need to use Vue again for training.'
A full debrief was held on the back stairs where all participants shared their experience of the exercise and what learnings they could take away for similar incidents in the future.
On a cold night in Scunthorpe, the crews returned back to their own stations after a successful exercise where 'Frozen' may have been a more appropriate film!