Abbeystead 30 years on: The fire chief’s view

Former Lancashire chief fire officer Roy Watson.
Former Lancashire chief fire officer Roy Watson.

The sight that greeted chief fire officer Roy Watson when he arrived at the water treatment plant was one he can still remember to this day.

He said: “It had been a lovely day and was a balmy evening.

“I had been to a conference in Birmingham and on my return I contacted the station and was told there had been an incident and that it appeared there were some casualties.

“No one knew how many people were involved.

“I went up to the site and by then it was pitch black and the place was full of fire engines and ambulances. One of my leading firemen, David Saville, and a leading ambulanceman had heard people calling from down in the chamber.

“We used a crane from Jardine’s in Lancaster and they did a superb job in lifting beams.

“It was then a case of searching everywhere.

“Throughout the incident we never knew how many people were involved because the people who had organised it were either dead or badly injured, and that was quite a problem for us.

“We just had to keep on looking. We had men searching in water pipes and chambers and crawling through mud. Police also searched the surrounding countryside in case anyone had been dazed and wandered off.

“We were looking for live casualties for a long time but about half way through we realised that it was a recovery operation.”

Roy served in Lancashire Fire Service for 30 years, eventually being awarded the CBE in 1990 before retiring two years later.

And the Abbeystead disaster is an event which sticks in his mind years later.

Now 77 and living in Darwen, he said: “It’s all part of the job but it was a terrible tragedy and one I can still remember clearly.

“It was one of the worst incidents I attended, due to the number of people involved and the human tragedy.”