Firefighter remembers friends who died in Shirley Towers tragedy

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Graeme Binning LSO 1

AN experienced fire officer has reflected on the devastating moment he discovered two of his friends and colleagues had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty.

Southampton firefighters Alan Bannon and Jim Shears (both pictured below) tragically perished while tackling a high-rise blaze in the city’s Shirley Towers in April 2010.

And the loss has shaped Local Senior Officer Graeme Binning (pictured above) into the seasoned officer he is today – and who insists firefighter and community safety is his ultimate priority.

Jim Shears, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

The LSO for East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde said: “It took me a long time to accept what had happened.

“To lose two good mates like that… it defines who I am, and is something I’ll always carry with me.

“No one will ever need to tell me about public and firefighter safety - it’s paramount in everything we do.”

Graeme, 45, struck up a friendship with Alan and Jim when he began his career at Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2001.

The dad-of-one served on the frontline alongside both firefighters in Southampton for four years, before transferring back to Scotland.

“It’s a moment you never want,” explained Graeme, speaking on the recent eight-year anniversary of the tragedy.

“I’ll never forgot the morning after the fire. I was getting ready for work and my wife called me into the room. I knew something wasn’t right.

“BBC News was on, showing footage of a high-rise fire in in Southampton, in which two firefighters had died. I instantly knew the block. I’d been in there.

“I started phoning the boys, no one was answering, and I began to get this sinking feeling and then my very worst fears came to pass.

Alan Bannon, Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service

“I will never forget them, and their families will always be very much in my thoughts.

“Firefighter and community safety absolutely has to sit at the heart of everything we do as a fire and rescue service.”

Before beginning his career on the frontline, Graeme spent ten years as a professional classical violinist with three of Britain’s most celebrated orchestras: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Glasgow, Hallé Orchestra in Manchester, and Northern Sinfonia in Newcastle.

After a decade performing in some of Europe’s most iconic concert halls, the Graeme gave it all up to join the ranks at Hampshire – and his first week on the job was an especially poignant time for firefighters all across the world.

“I started just few days after the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York,” he said.

“Three hundred and forty three firefighters lost their lives in this tragedy and it undoubtedly left its mark with their colleagues across the world, and still resonates strongly to this day.

“I remember on my first night on the job, with those images in my mind, and saying to myself: this is the real deal now.”

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has launched a public consultation as it proposes to train and equip firefighters to meet new and emerging modern risks such as terror attack and severe weather related flooding.

Speaking upon his appointment as the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s new Local Senior Officer for East Renfrewshire, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde, Graeme said: “Scotland is changing, and the risks facing communities are changing.

“For example, we have an ageing population that will only rise significantly over the coming years.

“This will increase the number of people who are at risk of fire, and other forms of preventable harm within the home.

“We are absolutely committed to reducing the number of accidental house fires – and the best form of firefighting is by preventing fires from happening in the first place.

“In the last year, accidental dwelling fires have reduced by 12 per cent across Renfrewshire.”

He also told how his crews carried out more than 2,153 home fire safety visits in the region, and fitted 1,944 smoke alarms over the same period.

The experienced firefighter said: “The reduction in accidental dwelling fires is a clear result of our prevention work – but we are never complacent.

“Last month’s significant fire in Glasgow undoubtedly highlights the Service’s core business, but on the whole fires are reducing – and we have a standing capacity that we can utilise to save more lives.

“We want to push the boundaries to benefit the region and offer the best service possible.”

The Scottish Fire and Rescue Service’s public consultation – ‘Your Service … Your Voice’ closes on May 14 and can be accessed at: /transformation/public-consultation.aspx

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