Shelton Hospital Fire
Just after midnight on February 26 1968 a nurse raised the alarm that a fire had started in the Shelton Mental Hospital near Shrewsbury. Tragically it was found later that there had been a 10 minute delay between smoke first being noticed, and the alarm being given. The cause of the fire, as so often, was a cigarette end, thought to have been dropped by one of the patients.
Matters were made more difficult by the age of the building, referred to in the Hansard report of questions on the subject in the immediate aftermath as “Constructed 14 years before the Indian Mutiny,” and by the fact that the women patients were routinely locked in the ward at night. Staffing was also questioned after the event – only two qualified nurses and a junior to oversee almost 100 severely mentally disabled women, some of whom were unable to move from their own beds.
Twenty-one women died that night, and another three succumbed shortly afterwards, most of the deaths being from smoke inhalation. Another 11 female patients were hurt in the incident.
The staff of the hospital did the best they could in difficult circumstances, but the death toll in part perhaps reflected the attitude to fire at the establishment – it turned out that no night staff had been trained as to how to evacuate the premises in case of fire for more than 20 years, and this in spite of a report five years before the blaze by the Shropshire Fire Service emphasizing the need for precisely such training. Twelve fire engines and 70 fire-fighters from that service did their best to tackle the inferno. Had they been called just those vital 10 minutes earlier the results might have been far less tragic.
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