On seeing Ron Evans’s photographs of the fire, Gordon Butcher wrote his memories of the day, as a member of the AFS.
The day of the fire
On the day of the fire I was twenty years old, a member of the Watford Fire Station ‘Auxiliary Fire Service’ (AFS), but was working as an apprentice chef in a French restaurant in St James Street, Piiccadilly, London. My employers recieved a telephone call from the Hertfordshire Fire Brigade (HFB) Fire Control, at Hertford, asking whether I could be released from my work to attend a major fire at British Moulded Hose in Watford, this was agreed, and I left my workplace, (on my trusty BSA C15 motorcycle), and proceeded at top speed up the Edgware Road (A5), towards Watford Fire Station.
On cresting Shoot up Hill (between Kilburn and Cricklewood) I saw an enourmous plume of black smoke in the far distance, and I new at this stage that this was a ‘BIG ONE’. I arrived at Watford Fire Station approximately 35 minutes after leaving work (there was a lot less traffic on the roads in those days, and speed limits were not so strictly enforced, also THERE WERE NO SPEED CAMERAS IN WATFORD, as there are these days). At Watford Fire Station I formed a 3 man crew, and we drove our ‘Green Goddess’ to Bushey Mill Lane, and reported to the Incident Fire Control Point, where we were detailed to proceed to the River Colne bridge and set our ‘Green Goddess’ as a base pump to pump water from the river, up to the fire ground. With the aid of additional 4 intermediate pumps (fire engines), this water relay was succcesfully set-up in about 25 minutes.
Felt the heat coming through the roof
Following this I was then detailed to go onto the roof of the building with a hose, as part of a firefighting team, with a number of other ‘Full Time’ firemen, including Gerry Brooker (the only name I remember, and with whom I served as a ‘Full Time/Professional Fireman for 25 or more years). After a short time we could feel the heat coming through the flat roof of the building (at this time the fire was ‘Bottled-up’ inside, with smoke being released from the lower windows). All of a sudden, we heard and felt a loud crack, and the flat roof started to open-up beneath our feet. We immediately decided to take advice from ‘The Manual of Firemanship’ and took the appropritate steps, BLOODY GREAT STEPS IN THE OPPOSITE DIRECTION.
Made our escape
We all made our escape to ground floor level, just before the roof split completely and vented the fire. In the circumstances, A VERY LUCKY ESCAPE !!! Along with my other 2 AFS collegues, we remained at the fire until about 10 o/c that evening, at which time we were transported back to Watford Fire Station, and went ‘Off Duty’, very tired, dirty (skokey), but pleased that we had done our bit to assist at what was probably the largest fire in Watford since the Second World War!!! (At the height of the fire a message was sent to Fire Control-‘Make Pumps 20-Turntable Ladder (TL) required. HFB not owning a TL, one was sent from Luton County Borough Fire Brigade, as it was in those days. In addition Pumps came from all over Hertfordshire, as well as from the Middlesex Fire Brigade As it still was in those days).