Sheffield ex-firefighter recalls explosion that badly injured him and killed two colleagues

A retired Sheffield firefighter has told how a works explosion that killed two of his colleagues left him with terrible injuries and changed his life.

Friday, 24th December 2021, 9:49 am

Pete Childe from Deepcar wrote to The Star after seeing a Retro story about two explosions in Sheffield. The first, at East Midlands Gas Board on Effingham Street in October 1973, left six workers dead and the second, at British Steel’s Tinsley Park Works on Shepcote Lane the following February, resulted in the deaths of two firefighters.

Pete said: “ I was a fireman stationed at Darnall Fire Station then. I attended both incidents but the Tinsley Park blast, for me, was life changing.

“On our way to Shepcote Lane, we were informed that brickwork on a furnace had cracked and that molten metal was seeping into the pit below. On arrival at the works four of us grabbed a length of hose and went down a flight of steps underneath the furnace.

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Wrecked cars after an explosion at the Effingham Street gas works in Sheffield, October 1973

“I was at the front with the hose and Bob Smith was on my right, behind Bob was Paul Parkin and behind me was Bob Codman.

“We had just started to spray the leak when we heard a rumble above us. Somebody shouted run, we turned and started to run towards the steps, we were then hit by a blast of red hot heat and showered with molten metal.

“On reaching the top of the stairs I noticed that my helmet had blown off, leather gloves that I had been wearing had burnt away and all our fire coats had bits of molten slag stuck to them.”

Pete ended up in intensive care at the Northern General Hospital for five weeks. He was told his colleagues were doing fine.

Firemen trying to free the body of a crane operator who was killed in the explosion at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield, October 24, 1973

“I just broke down and cried my eyes out”

Near the end of the second week, for once the ward was pretty quiet, at the far end of the ward was a TV set. It must have been the local news, I heard the presenter say that the funeral had taken place that morning of the second fireman.

“I just couldn’t get my head round it, I was told that they were okay. Then the truth hit me and I just broke down and cried my eyes out.

“When I asked the nurses for more information they said that my wife would tell me when she visited me that evening. My wife told me about the two funerals, once again I broke down.

Sheffield firefighters including, far right, Paul Parkin

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“After my five weeks in intensive care I was moved to Fulwood Annexe for seven weeks of skin graft operations.”

Pete suffered damage to his eyes and had to retire from the fire service.

He said: “I think of Bob and Paul every day, two great firemen and two great friends. RIP.”

A disused storage tank which blew up at Effingham Street Gas Works, Sheffield on October 24, 1973

Star reporter Errol Edwards remembered seeing the Effingham Street explosion from the classroom window at Burngreave Middle School.

He recalled: “It felt as if the explosion had been detonated for my benefit as I was looking directly at it when it occurred.

"A large plume of smoke soon developed, filling the sky.”

The headteacher told his teacher to move the children away from the windows but nobody knew what had happened until much later on.

Sheffield 's East End, with Tinsley Park works in the background