Shirley Towers: tragic incident on 6 April 2010

Shirley Towers

Tragic incident on 6 April 2010

On 6 April 2010 a tragic incident took place at Shirley Towers in Southampton, in which St Mary's firefighters James Shears and Alan Bannon lost their lives.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service's final report details the events of the night and shares the recommendations and findings from the incident.  It was produced by  the Service's dedicated Accident Investigation Team.

The report has been distributed to all Hampshire firefighters and staff as well as all other UK fire and rescue services.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service final investigation report into Shirley Towers.

This report has also been sent to other bodies with responsibility for improving  the safety of the public and firefighters such as local authorities and the Secretaries of State for Housing, Fire and Communities and Local Government.

Statement on behalf of the Bannon family by Keith Trott, Alan Bannon’s brother-in-law 

Alan was not only my brother-in-law, but my best friend and we all miss him daily.

From an early age Alan showed an interest in all types of outdoor activities, he joined the Scout Movement as a Cub, continued on to Scouts, Ventures and eventually become a Venture Scout leader.  Scouting gave Alan an opportunity to blossom in a way he would not have done in an academic environment and introduced him to caving, camping, climbing and mountaineering, all of these became a lifelong love.

Something Alan got great enjoyment from was being part of a team of young Venture Scouts that helped lead a group of young people with severe learning difficulties on a 10-day adventure trip to the Isle of Skye.  Alan's charitable nature never left him and it was as a result of his mountaineering skills that he was asked to be a safety marshal on several sponsored ‘Three Peaks challenge’ races. 

Alan's thirst for adventure and his love of teaching young people new skills led him to join the Hampshire Scout Caving Club as a caving leader, where he met Charlotte.

Alan was a natural and popular leader, always trying to assist others in achieving things they didn't believe that they could do.  He quickly picked up the technical aspects of all the sports he enjoyed and when it came to rope work he was brilliant at rigging, backing up every anchor with a secondary anchor. His skill and passion led him to volunteer for the Hampshire Technical Rescue Team.  Alan never took unnecessary risks and as a result this gave confidence to all that climbed, abseiled or caved with him.

Ever up for a new challenge Alan took up scuba diving in his late twenties, taking many trips with his uncle.  He worked hard to attain his Dive Master (a very technical and demanding qualification), enabling him to take novice divers out into open water, and therefore be responsible for their safety and also for checking their equipment.

When Alan left school he got an apprenticeship with British Rail as a sheet metal worker. The first year of his apprenticeship was spent at Southampton Engineering Training Association where he showed a natural ability to be very precise in his planning and turn the plans into a practical model.   For the rest of his apprenticeship he worked at the Railway Works in Eastleigh where he made lots of friends, some of whom enjoyed his love of caving.  It was here that his desire to join the fire service really took root.

In 2001 after working at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service workshops for four years and after two attempts, Alan finally got his wish and was successful in his application to become a firefighter.  His whole family were so proud of him achieving his ambition.

After training he was stationed at St Marys, all his colleagues and friends both on Red Watch, at the control room and at workshops talk of his dry sense of humour. They not only worked together but socialised together too.  Alan always stood out for his fun nature, his laughter and his outgoing personality.  He was a calm and reliable member of the team who took safety seriously and was prepared to speak up if he felt something needed changing.

To Alan, family was very important and in 2005 he and Charlotte had Abigail.  From the moment she was born Alan was a very hands-on and dedicated dad.  His shift pattern was such that he was able to spend a lot of time with her and did everything he could to give her as many different experiences as possible.  From camping in the New Forest to helping him build a shed in the back garden.  Abi's favourite Daddy Daughter activity was going to Romsey Rapids where they would spend the afternoon together going down the big water slide or swimming around the rapids.

At any family event Alan would always be found rolling around on the floor with Abi, his niece or nephew's, giving them horse rides, reading to them and generally playing for hours. 

Alan was forever doing ‘little’ or not so little jobs at home,  for his parents, his aunt and uncle, his sister and brother-in-law, in fact all his in laws or any of his friends or even acquaintances that needed help.  From simply helping on a tip run to building a gazebo in the pouring rain.  Alan and Charlotte completely renovated their home, replacing a bay window which had started to crumble and building an extension and conservatory.  Alan was an incredibly practical person who was able to turn his hand to any challenge.

He never missed a birthday or special event (although he was often an hour or more late), he enjoyed spending time with his family socially and even in his 30s had a beautiful childlike quality when spending time with us.

Alan was a much loved family man who always put others before himself and we need you, the jury, to help us understand the events of Tuesday 6th April which led to Alan and Jim’s death and to identify the failings that occurred in order that improvements can be made.

We need to understand if breathing apparatus and safety procedures were correctly followed.  All we want is for no other firefighter’s family to lose their father, son/daughter, husband/wife, brother or sister and have to deal with the grief that we have suffered.

Jim Shears

Statement from the Shears family read on behalf of James’s widow, Carla Shears

This is a statement about my late husband, James Shears, known to his family and friends as Jim. Jim and I met at Reading University in 1995 when he was 20 and I was 18. We became a couple a year later and have been together ever since. Our relationship was rock solid. We have two children: Frankie James Shears, now aged 7, and Ruben James Shears, now aged 6. We live in Poole, Dorset and are very close to both Jim’s family, who live nearby, and mine, who live in Essex.  Jim was the eldest of four brothers.  Chas, Steven and Gary all looked up to Jim - Jim’s dad Ed jokingly numbers the brothers 1–4, claiming he forgets their names. As the eldest and therefore number 1, Jim always joked that he was the ‘favourite’. 

I called him Half-Job Jimmy because he never finished DIY around the house and my Dad would have to come and crack the whip to encourage him to get on with it. It was not that Jim was lazy; he was a perfectionist who did not like making mistakes so it took him ages to complete anything to a standard he was satisfied with. In turn, he affectionately referred to me as his pet Rottweiler and nicknamed my auburn-haired sister Ginge.

Jim attained a BSc Honours degree in Biochemistry but never enjoyed his course. He always talked of wanting to be a firefighter, his second choice of career was forensic science and that’s what he was aiming for. 

After leaving university, Jim initially worked as a biochemist but he hated being confined in a lab. He applied to join Dorset Fire and Rescue Service twice and got through to the final stages but both times, his nerves got the better of him in the final interview. Jim then tried Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service and prepared for the interview process for hours. This time he was 100% prepared and confident and did not get nervous. His persistence and determination paid off and out of 3,000 interviewees, Jim was selected and he finally succeeded in his dream of becoming a firefighter. He was over the moon and rang everyone to tell them he had got in; we were all so proud of him. 

Jim started his training in May 2003. It was a really hot summer and he found it tough training in all the equipment but he didn’t complain. Fellow recruits dropped out but he never once talked about doing so himself; the trainers gave them hell but Jim understood why and took it in his stride. Almost immediately after his training was complete and we had attended Jim’s passing out ceremony, Jim was posted to St. Mary’s, Southampton, which he was pleased about as it was relatively close to home. We went to have a look at the station before his start date so that he knew exactly where it was and would not be late for his first day. He met his new crew mates and although nervous when he went in, they put him at ease and he said they were a really good bunch of lads. When he started, he was always waiting for them to play a prank on him as the new boy but they never did. He fitted in straight away and never looked back. Jim was amusingly competitive with his colleagues and prided himself on being the fittest member of his watch; he practiced at home so he would beat the others at weight lifting competitions. He remained at St. Mary’s Red Watch for his entire firefighting career.

Jim never spoke much about his job and though I always asked how his shift had been, getting him to talk about his working day was like drawing teeth. This wasn’t because he was unhappy but because when he was at home, he was a family man and wanted to devote his attention to us; he was just ‘dad’ to the boys and ‘Jim’ to me. Jim made the most of his shift pattern to be a really hands-on dad. He did as many of the school runs as me and knew all our sons’ friends and their parents. He got involved with the school, going along as a parent helper on school trips and giving talks on fire safety. He doted on his brothers’ children as well as our own. He never looked on it as a duty or a chore – he simply loved being with them.

Aside from work and family, Jim’s biggest interest was his lifelong hobby, judo. He entered his first competition at the age of 6 and was supported all the way by his dad Ed who has been to every single fight he entered, which amounts to thousands. He reached black belt 2nd Dan and his dad encouraged him to go for 3rd or 4th Dan but his response was “there’s no point – the belt doesn’t get any blacker”. Jim was a gold medalist at the World Firefighter Games twice, University champion, achieved gold, silver and bronze medals at the National Championships and represented Great Britain in Spain. His dad says he ‘basks in Jim’s reflected glory’ and we are all so proud of his achievements. Jim was keen to nurture others’ interest in judo and he became a coach and treasurer of his local club. Every Tuesday evening was judo night. Jim successfully applied for a Lottery grant for the club, which enabled them to buy top of the range equipment and help its continued success. When Frankie turned 5, Jim bought him his first judo suit and could not have been prouder to take him along.  He was instrumental in encouraging lots of Frankie’s friends to join and his ultimate dream was to one day set up his own judo club.

Jim’s other interests included fantasy football, eBay and bargain hunting in charity shops to find things to sell online for a profit. He was in three or four fantasy football leagues and there was always a battle for the TV remote on a Saturday afternoon when the football scores were on and I and the boys wanted to watch Total Wipeout. It was very important to Jim to know if he was ‘top of the league’. 

Jim was very thrifty.  He liked to grow vegetables in the garden and Jim and the boys out voted me three to one to buy some chickens. He saved four battery hens and bought them home for eggs. He was pleased to save them from a terrible life and it was an added bonus to Jim that they were also cheaper than buying hens from a breeder. He even tried to make money out of them by selling the eggs to neighbours; the pounds had to go in a pot and nobody was allowed to take any out because Jim wanted to see how much profit he made at the end of the year. The eggs paid for the chicken feed and the eBay paid for our annual holiday. He always had some money making idea on the go and used to pinch the catch phrase off Del Boy “this time next year babe, we’ll be millionaires”.

Jim’s priorities in life were his family, judo and the brigade. Anyone who knew him loved him. He was at the heart of everything he did and our lives will never be the same again without him. He wasn’t a saint and wouldn’t want to be portrayed as one but he was our hero in every way. 

We miss Jim enormously and we know that nothing can bring Jim and Alan back, but from this enquiry we as a family would like to see lessons learnt and measures put in place to prevent this tragedy ever happening again. We would also like to find out if Jim and his colleagues had adequate training and equipment to deal with such complex fires as that of Shirley Towers, this would satisfy a lot of unanswered questions.