Covering a local fire tragedy
The stereotype of a local news reporter (you know, church fetes, angry nimbys, that sort of thing) hasn’t really come true in my 9 months at CN Radio in Warwickshire. Some of the biggest stories of the year landed close by, including the warehouse fire which killed four firefighters back in November.
Here’s a reflective piece I wrote for the Touch Radio website about how we covered that particular story:
When hundreds of people came to Coventry Cathedral in January for a memorial service, it marked a closing chapter in one of the darkest times for fire fighters everywhere, especially in Warwickshire.
Ian Reid, John Averis, Ashley Stevens and Darren Yates-Badley were all killed fighting a blaze at a vegetable packing plant in Atherstone-on-Stour in November.
It was also a huge challenge for the Touch Radio news team – trying to cover the ever-changing situation, while remembering that friends, neighbours and even family of the four men could be listening.
The warehouse on a rural industrial estate became the centre of national media attention for the few days while the fires raged back in November.
Most of the camera crews were camped on top of a huge mound of earth in front of the site, which became known as “Media Mount”.
Getting there wasn’t easy either – you had to drive up a long country track lined with gigantic fire hoses. Security guards insisted on seeing press ID before letting you close to the scene. Once there you had to navigate past dozens of TV satellite news trucks and dozens more fire engines.
At the height of the search and rescue operation 100 fire fighters were working on the scene.
Walking past the ones just finishing a shift you could see tiredness and frustration etched across their dirty faces, after another day searching for their fallen colleague.
Messages of support
By the second day it became clear the real story was in Alcester and Stratford where the four men came from.
Those days were difficult for local newspapers and radio stations: we knew the names of the four men (they had been published in a Sunday newspaper) but without confirmation from the fire service we didn’t want to name them – that would only be more upsetting for the family.
I spent a lot of that first Sunday in Alcester, talking to the mayor and the local vicar, as well as standing outside the small fire station, watching dozens of people stop by with flowers, teddies and messages.
One read “Rest in peace boys, you are true heroes now”.
By the following Wednesday the worst news had been confirmed and the bodies of 3 of the men were carried out in a procession in the early hours of the morning.
The next weeks would be filled with tributes to the men, covering their funerals and the big questions that have to be asked about what caused the fire and why the men were sent into the building.