It remains the worst peacetime loss of life for the British Fire Service and March 28 will be its 50th anniversary. Former fireman Raymond Ferrari, 73, and Bob Scouller, 85, a driver and later Assistant Superintendent with Glasgow Salvage Corps both had a lucky escape.
In day two of our series to mark the tragedy, which is described in a new book, they recalled the events of the night...
I haven’t got anybody to back up my claim but I say that we had two calls before Cheapside Street and they were both to bonds. They were false alarms, bell faults,” says Bob Scouller.
“Because when we got called out to Cheapside Street I said to an officer who was killed ‘Where are we going now?’ He said ‘We’re going to a bond.’ I said ‘Not again. Maybe the third time it might be something.’
Of course it was something -- a night the city nor Bob has ever forgotten.
He had no idea that when he drove the Salvage Corps truck from the base in Albion Street down to Cheapside Street with six other men, only him and one college would return.
The former Air Force man, who grew up in Finnieston before moving into the Corps’ base with his late wife Hedwig, could see no sign of fire when he arrived.
So, directed by his boss, Deputy Chief Salvage Officer, Superintendent Edward Murray, he took the crew round the corner to the Warroch Street side of the warehouse.
He said: “Eddie got out and took off his collar and tie because he didn’t want to get them dirty, and he hung them over the dashboard. He said ‘I’ll get them when I come back’.”
Meanwhile, over at the Glasgow South fire station, Raymond Ferrari and his colleagues were doing a drill when they got the emergency call.
Raymond, who had only been a fireman for 18 months after leaving the army, said: “The West fire station originally got the call and when we got there we were told to go round to Warroch Street which is very narrow.
“Jimmy Dunlop, the driver extended the ladder up. We saw nothing.”
But a few minutes later both men had a miracle escape they still remember almost five decades later.
Bob, who now lives in Lenzie, had followed his colleagues down Warroch Street on foot.
He said: “The buildings seemed to make me sort of shiver a wee bit. I said to myself ‘I’m going back.’ I turned and I started to walk back up, and as I came near the turntable ladder there were four firemen.
“They were trying to get into a grill in a window and were hammering away with their little axes. They said ‘Driver, could you get us an axe?’
“I said ‘I’m Salvage -- our axes aren’t as good as yours. But certainly I’ll tell your driver who’s up near the end of the building.’
“So I turned round and shouted to the driver ‘Your men want an axe!’ and just as those words came out of my mouth the building blew out.
“I turned round. They ran into the middle of the street. The rubble just came out and covered the whole street.
“The four of them were buried right in front of my eyes. There was nothing I could do. They were all gone.”
Raymond, from Langside, also had a devastatingly close call with death.
He was helping two fellow firemen who were feeding a hose into the building.
“Obviously they saw fire but I didn’t see it,” he said. “They were shouting ‘Give us more line’.
“Just at that particular moment, I’m pulling this hose, and I turned my back. It all blew out.
“Fortunately I was blown underneath the turntable ladder which saved me.”
Raymond was covered with dust “like a coalman” and had hurt his back. But he was alive.
At that time the pair had no idea how devastating the explosion had been, and started looking for colleagues.
Bob said: “I dashed round to the other side to see if I could get any of the fire brigade.
“I thought the their side would be okay. I turned the corner and it was chaos.
“There were fire engines buried with rubble. So I got hold of one of the officers and told him what had happened.
“He said ‘Go back round and see if you can see anything.’ There was nothing. It was just burning.”
Raymond said: “We couldn’t look for them. It was a matter of retreating back until reinforcements came.”
Of course the families of the city’s firemen and Salvage Corps were frantic after newsflashes of the fire appeared on TV.
Bob had been interviewed by a reporter who took the time to go and tell his wife and son Richard, then ten, that he was okay.
But many were not so fortunate.
Bob was sent back to the station in the engine with Eddie’s tie still hanging from the dashboard. He had never returned to get it.
Bob said “I got back to the station and I could see there were wives in the back court.
“They were all screaming and shouting ‘Where’s my man?’
They might have survived, but both men had to deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
Bob was a pallbearer at the massive funeral which saw thousands of people line the streets. He said: “The Salvage Corps was never the same.”
Raymond said: “I still remember my colleagues to his day.”
Tinderbox Heroes by Alan Forbes and James Smith is launched at Aye Write at 3.30pm on March 9 at the Mitchell Library. To book free tickets call 0844 847 1683, visit www.ticketweb.co.uk or call at the Mitchell Library. The book is £12.99 and will be on sale at Waterstones.