Mike Leader© 2019 All Rights Reserved

A history of the Greenwich Blue Coat Schools

1700 ~ 2014
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The fire alarm sounded at 12.28pm. Mr. Leader was in the admin. corridor and went immediately to the school keeper’s office to check location of alarm. It was Vanbrugh first floor. Mr. Leader then collected the portable loud-hailer from his office and as he came down stairs the pips went for lunch and Mrs. Randerson tannoyed to clear the building. He went across to Vanbrugh which by this time was completely evacuated and was informed by Mrs. Callin that this was a genuine alarm and that there was smoke in the Vanbrugh teaching area. At this point Mrs. Randerson came across the quadrangle and Mr. Leader gave her the loud­hailer. She went to take charge of the pupils on the rear playing area.

Mr. Leader went with the assistant school keeper, Mr. Askew, to investigate the smoke. On entering Vanbrugh Social Area it was immediately apparent from the amount of smoke that there was a fire and it was located iin the typing room store. Flames could be seen coming from the door way. Mr. Leader asked the assistant school keeper to call the fire brigade and unreeled the hose reel from the social area in the hope that it might have been possible to contain the flames. It was quickly obvious that this was insufficient and the smoke level was increasing dangerously. Mr. Leader was unable to shut the typing room door without danger of being burned so withdrew from the building and went to the MRO’s room, where there is access to an outside line and phoned the fire brigade again himself to make sure that there were no misunderstandings. The fire had originally been discovered by Mrs. Rawlings who tried to extinguish it initially with a fire extinguisher.

It was apparent that Mrs. Randerson and the staff had things under control in the playground so Mr. leader went to the front of the building and sent the assistant school keeper to the rear to meet the fire brigade and guide them to the nearest accessible point to the fire. He intercepted the fire appliances and directed down Reynolds Place to the rear of the school.

By the time the brigade was on scene the smoke in Vanbrugh had increased to such a level that entry was impossible without breathing apparatus. The School keeper was on scene, having been called back from his lunch break, and he turned off the power to the first floor Vanbrugh area. The pupils were moved to the other play area away from the smoke. The Fire Officer in charge asked that the site by cleared of pupils and this was initiated, pupils being instructed to leave via the play group playing area leading to the front of the building. Those pupils who still had clothes in the Sports block had to wait for staff to collect them and those who were not sure of anyone being at home were asked to gather in front of the main entrance.

We were very impressed by both staff and pupil response to the incident. The school was cleared in three minutes and upon roll call only three pupils were not accounted for. Two had been sent home and one was truanting and was known to have been absent from break time. A subsequent phone call confirmed that he was at home.

The Fire Service did an excellent job in very difficult circumstances. Station Office McCarthy from East Greenwich Fire Station was extremely complimentary about the way the school handled the incident.

The Fire Investigation Officers decided to call in the C.I.D. to carry out a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding the fire.

The fire damage was confined to the Typing Room (V105) but there was extensive smoke damage to adjoining rooms and Vanbrugh Social Area. The girls’ toilet on the ground floor was also smoke damaged.

Telephone messages were relayed to the Director of Greenwich Education, Southwark Diocesan Board and the Chair of Governors. At first we had hoped to run school as normal on the following day and Peter Gilbert, assisted by Keith Sitch, drew up an alternative rooming plan with approval of the Director of Education who visited during the afternoon.

Subsequently, following the advice from the Principle Borough Surveyor and with the agreement of Terry Mackie, AEO Secondary Schools, and Gill Page, Chair of Governors, it was decided to close the school for the rest of the week because of various safety factors and to give an opportunity for cleaning work to get under way. A number of members of staff assisted in telephoning parents to give them the updated information.

It was decided to cancel the 1st Year parents’ evening arranged for Thursday and to ask Tutors to contact parents to invite them in individually as an alternative. Following discussions with Sue Mead, it was decided to postpone the Summer Fayre. This decision was later ratified by Roger Mead.