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The only time most of us will have seen the Harrods depository at Barnes, would have been on our television screens during the course of the Oxford Cambridge boat race on the river Thames at London. About five minutes into the race and just before Hammersmith Bridge on the left hand side or Surrey bank of the river is this magnificent old Victorian building built in 1894 is about one hundred metres in length and four stories high. Constructed of red brick with cream stone facings. It cannot be mistaken for any other building because it had the words Harrods Depository in large letters built into the face of the building. Back in the 1980s there were two-furniture depositories, the one on the riverfront and a lesser building directly behind it, hidden from view. Early on in my time at Hammersmith I had arranged a visit to the depository to garner fire fighting information, building layout, water supplies etc. I was a very interesting and informative visit, although we were not given full access to the main building, due to it being a high value storage area. We did gain one little nugget of information though, being informed that amongst the items still stored there in that building, was a trunk containing the personal effects of an officer killed during the Boer wars, thus never returned to claim them back. It also appeared that they had own little fire station and equipment. Which may have explained why over the years we received hardly any fire calls to the depository. They either had very high fire prevention practises, or their own firemen liked to claim all of the credit for such occurrences as did happen.

Some years later whilst on day duties at Hammersmith we received a call to fire at the Harrods Depository Barnes. To my own knowledge this was the first time we had ever received a fire call to this address, and I was slightly curious as to what to expect. My curiosity was abated somewhat as we crossed the river via Hammersmith bridge, for there was a column of smoke rising behind the Harrods building. By this stage in my career I had realized that columns of smoke on the horizon do not necessarily mean huge conflagrations. It could be a motorcar well alight with its tyres burning. It could even be as I once experienced a man setting fire to a very large stack of copper wire, to burn off the insulation materiel prior to selling it as scrap copper. Then as we turned into the long approach road, I could see the smoke was issuing from one of the large buildings of the depositary itself. As we drew closer, and seeing people dashing around and waving their arms excitedly around, I realized we had a working job in front of us. I was met by one of the Harrods employee’s who told me that there was a severe fire in progress on the ground floor of the rear building. I was now slightly concerned for fires in these large depositaries stacked full with flammable furniture etc, frequently ended up as total burn outs. So I straightaway sent the priority message make pumps six, even though I had not yet fully evaluated the fire. Fire fighting initially started from the outside, with a large three quarter inch jet of water was directed through the large window from which the smoke was issuing, which was quite fortunate, because this was where the main seat of the fire was. Then as more machines arrived on the make up, entry was made at two points on the ground floor of he building. Somewhere around this point in the proceedings a senior officer arrived and made pumps eight, but then quite unusually and sensibly left me in charge of the actual fire fighting operations. Well to cut a long story short, the fire was with both an element of good luck and judgment, contained within the compartment it originated in, thus the whole building was saved. Then with all the paraphernalia and appliances and equipment, plus the numerous white hats in attendance, I volunteered to don breathing apparatus and check for fire spread on the floor above. As I made my way up to the first floor, the staircase enclosure was filled with smoke, but it was a light smoke with no heat, then upon entering the first floor level compartment, through the light smoke I could see a stack of furnishings beginning to smoke and ignite. I was carrying at that time one of the newly issued personal radio’s so that I think I was one of the very first to send a priority message over one of them. Sending the following message, Delta two three two walkie-talkie priority, from me on the first floor at Harrods, make high pressure hose reels one.

This is one of the very few fires that I attended that I cannot describe the actual fire fighting operations inside the building. This is because from the outset I fully realized the dangers in fighting fires in these huge warehouse type buildings, and these are many and various from flashovers, to collapse of the actual building itself. As much as I would have liked to have got stuck in as we say, in a building like this my job was to be outside, in overall command thus ensuring the safety of the firemen, and trying to anticipate all and every eventuality

There is one slightly happy note to this fire, because the building is on the river Thames frontage itself the fireboat stationed down river at Lambeth HQ would have been mobilised. So at least the lads on the fireboat, whose nickname was the ‘floaties’ would have got a little jolly outing that afternoon
Whilst writing this, I Googled Harrods depository and discovered the old building had now been converted into up market residential flats although still retaining it’s impressive exterior.

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