Stockline Diasaster 2004: Ex-fire chief remembers 'Glasgow's 9/11'

IT was Glasgow's 9/11.

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Brian Sweeney said the Stockline explosion was dubbed Scotland's 9/11
Brian Sweeney said the Stockline explosion was dubbed Scotland's 9/11

This statement about the Stockline disaster has stuck in Brian Sweeney's head.

Even though the retired chief fire officer knew the building collapse was not a terrorist attack or on the same scale as the New York tragedy, he related to this comment.

Mr Sweeney, 52, had been head of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue for only a few months when the explosion at Stockline happened.

He said: "There was a board meeting a couple of days after Stockline and I briefed them on what was happening.

"And my chairman at the time said: 'You know chief, I think when we look back on 2004 this will be remembered as Glasgow's 9/11.'

"And I thought it was a strange comment to make. Hugely fewer people were involved, there were no firefighters killed, it wasn't a block like the twin towers but I know what he meant.

"In a smaller city than New York it almost felt, in a community sense, that everyone knew someone who was involved.

"It wasn't the same as 9/11 but in Glasgow, in a smaller sense, it became like that."

Mr Sweeney was at a meeting in Edinburgh at the time of the blast, just after noon on May 11 2004.

He said: "My pager said: 'explosion in Maryhill'. I left the meeting, went out and made a phone call to the command and control centre."

When he got to the site the information was "sketchy".

He said: "How many people were in the building? How many people had been visiting? How many had been pulled from the surface of the rubble and how many - best guess - did we think were still under the pile?

"Even though 35 to 40 minutes had elapsed you would think the situation would be chaotic and panic stricken but it wasn't, it was calm and organised.

"The police were there, the fire service were there."

Mr Sweeney recalls how "uncharacteristically" warm it was and the huge size of the rubble pile.

HE gathered specialist officers and made decisions about how the operation, which he knew would last for days, would be tackled.

As the day unfolded the interest from the media and public continued to grow.

"There were 100 things going on," he said. "At four or five o'clock I realised we needed to set up a helpline for the public.

"Then I had to speak to the press. I went down with a press officer to, what can only be described, as a hack pack. There were satellite vans the full length of Maryhill Road.

"There was a collection of sound booms, mics, radio and print press, probably numbering more than 100. It was intimidating."

Hundreds of firefighters, from across the UK, were drafted in to help with the search and rescue.

It become a military operation as firefighters worked on the site, using specialist rescue equip-ment so new it had not yet been used, 24 hours a day.

Around 40 people were rescued from the site and taken to hospital.

"There were people still coming out the next day or 18 hours later," he said.

"There was a note of optimism that we struck during it. Many people may have thought it was too hopeful.

"I don't think it was. There had been disasters or scenes where people were plucked out of buildings weeks or days after."

Mr Sweeney remembers how one woman was brought out after becoming trapped underneath a filing cabinet.

He said: "It was about a 6ft to 8ft tall filing cabinet reduced to 18in under the crush. And she was lying right there. I felt there was a really good chance we'd get people out alive."

Mr Sweeney said friendships were built between members of his team and the people who were rescued. He said: "Some firefighters had contact with people they rescued in the hospitals.

SO they were visiting people who they had pulled from the debris - 10 or 12 hours of work to get them out and they had saved them.

"And they still have friendships with them."

Fresh in the mind was the fatal fire at Rosepark Care Home in Uddingston, Lan-arkshire, which claimed 14 lives in January that year.

It was during a memorial for the victims of the Rose-park fire on Friday of that week that Mr Sweeney received news that the last body at the plastics factory had been recovered.

Mr Sweeney said: "They were two of the worst incidents I ever attended, so to have them back-to- back, within a three-month period, was traumatic for the service and even more so, the victims.

"To be at the memorial service in Uddingston Parish Church - and for us to find out then that Tim Smith had not made it...

"It was a difficult time for everyone and a tragic time for the families."

rachel.loxton@eveningtimes.co.uk

Fire

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