All these incidents happened from 1946 - May 31 1953
Underground Fire at Bolsover Colliery 1948
We were called out on a Sunday night, the team that went were Wilf Whetton, Sid Evans, Frank Marshall, E Dawson, John Jessop, Geoff Wilson and myself Ern James with Superintendent A Bonsor. We arrived on the surface and were met by one of the Colliery Officials, Superintendent Bonsor was in charge and he decided that five of the team should fill their apparatus and proceed down the pit to locate the fire. It was in 6 Main Gate and it was the conveyor belt in the Main Gate which was on fire. Superintendent Bonsor instructed Geoff Wilson and myself to await the arrival of Bolsover Colliery Rescue Team and then proceed inbye. Four Bolsover members arrived at the pit which included Bill Broughton, Tommy Bower, Bill Chapman and another member. We donned our apparatus and gathered our equipment together, which included the liquid air with its carrying basket which weighed together 80 lbs. Also we had a stretcher, revivor (oxygen) and heavy tripod scales to check the amount of liquid air that went into the apparatus. The rules were that the apparatus should only be worn for two hours from filling up, attacking the fire and getting back to the fresh air base. There was also a one hour safety margin which allowed the next team to go in and investigate the cause of the teams delay.
The first team had already filled their apparatus on the surface so the two hours started from then, the fire was 1 ½ miles from the shaft bottom so it was a good 45 minutes to get to the fire.
Our team proceeded inbye having to adjust the weight of the equipment between ourselves, by the time we got to 6 Main Gate we needed a rest but Superintendent Bonsor said "Right Jamie fill up and go in straight away" It appeared that they were unable to get water through the pipe range. The first team had only a few foam extinguishers and stone dust to fight the fire, somebody had the presence of mind to cut the top belt and roll it back, this most probably would have been Wilf Whetton. The bottom belt was still on fire and the flames were coming from under the belt structure, all we could do when we went in was to shovel the stone dust which had been used to attack the fire. The heat was tremendous and the arched steel roadway supports were heated up, and catching these on the arms and elbows were very painful. They said after the fire was out for 24 hours that the temperature of the steel arches was still 120 degrees. The main trouble which we found was that with no water available the bottom belt kept flaring up and as we were stood above this heat and our feet were getting hot, it was really unbearable. When water did eventually come through the pipes it was only a trickle, not enough to fight the fire. I can recall a fire bucket being on hand and I thought right I'm filling that and cooling my feet off, at that time in the mines all pit boots worn had steel studs in the heel and soles called 'hob nails', I put a foot into the water in the bucket and fortunately I could only get one foot in, as soon as the hob nails went into the water there was such a hissing sound which was hot steam which went up my trousers and singed the hairs off my leg, I did not put the other one in the bucket after that.
When the water pressure increased we were able to attack the fire and went 100 yards up the gate in quick style putting most of the fire out. Our two hour time was up and we were ready for packing up but Superintendent Bonsor who was in fresh air with other officials just behind us, insisted that we carried on knowing that we had only one hour safety margin left. We carried on as best we could but there came a time that we were hardly moving forward. The dayshift had come on by that time and I heard one comment that we had had it. The team could not do anymore so we retreated having no liquid air left in our apparatus. When we came to a stop we had been in sight of the coal face. One of the Markham Colliery pit teams were the next team going in and they were sent to go onto the coal face, it wasn't long before word came to us that one of the Markham team had collapsed due to the heat and he was being carried out. Our team went into fresh air and I can recall Geoff Wilson and myself trying to take our apparatus off, but we were that bad through the heat and lack of oxygen that we could not lift off the apparatus off our shoulders, so we both had to get down on the floor and wriggle out of it. All we all wanted to do was rest awhile and have a drink of water. Someone gave us a drink and we felt better. We still had to put our apparatus on, pick up our equipment and have that steady walk back to the pit bottom which was 1 ½ miles away. I was hoping that the one hour safety margin would never be used again.
This was one of the hottest situations I ever found myself in.