GRAHAM BELL questioned his wife’s cooking skills after smoke wafted into their home during a firefighters’
GRAHAM BELL questioned his wife’s cooking skills after smoke wafted into their home during a firefighters’ training exercise at the Kenton Theatre.
The former Olympic skier has lived above the theatre in New Street, Henley with wife Sarah for almost 20 years. It was filled with synthetic smoke after being transformed into the scene of an electrical blaze.
Mrs Bell told the Henley Standard: “We live right above the theatre and it smelled quite waxy.
“When it started I went into the sitting room and I could smell smoke and Graham said ‘maybe it’s your cooking’, which I thought was quite rude. The sitting room was quite smoky at one point. We evacuated because in the event of a real fire we wouldn’t be in the building and we wanted to see what was going on.
“I didn’t think it was going to be quite as thorough as it was. They were all in breathing apparatus and it looked very realistic. It really was a drama playing out and it was reassuring that in the event of a real fire they would be there.
“I’ve never seen anything like it before but it was very exciting. We’d thought we’d just play along with it.”
The theatre closed last week after its season came to an end and its foyer had been stripped out ready for refurbishment.
Twelve firefighters entered the building in the staged search and rescue operation after a mock fire in the cellar.
Marcus Reay, Henley’s station commander, said: “We used breathing apparatus teams to go down and search the foyer area and the basement.
“The scenario was a tradesman was doing some electrical work during the school holidays and brought his children to the theatre as well. A fire had started and both the tradesman and the children were missing. It wouldn’t be a big fire but it would produce a lot of smoke.”
Two fire engines — from Henley and Wallingford — attended the incident and rescued the “family” of three dummies safely.
The firefighters even took hoses into the building, but turned off the water before entering the theatre on Wednesday evening last week. Mr Reay added: “Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service have recently introduced new breathing apparatus search techniques.
“I’m very happy with the standard and very impressed with the speed in which the crews would have dealt with a fire and rescued the people.
“It’s an excellent opportunity that the Kenton Theatre have kindly let the fire service use the building.” Afterwards the crews were given an opportunity to walk around the theatre to improve their knowledge of the layout of the building in the event they attend a real incident.
Mr Reay added: “We get to drill or exercise in a realistic environment to ensure our crews have got familiarity of the building which we could attend.
“This has the benefit of crews understanding the evacuation procedures of the theatre and having knowledge of the internal layout of the building.
“Usually we would go out of Henley to train due to the lack of buildings that we can exercise in.
“I would ask any business owners with unused buildings to get in contact as the crews learn more. It’s all about getting different buildings and the crews using different search techniques.” The exercise attracted a fair amount of interest in the town with people watching from their windows and filming on their phones.
Mr Reay said signs were always put up assuring people it was a training exercise and firefighters were happy to answer any questions.
Ed Simons, the theatre’s chairman of trustees, said: “The fire service desperately look for premises where they can carry out their training without putting somebody in danger or having as close to a real life problem as you can get.
“We’ve stripped out the foyer and there was nothing there for them to damage or any personnel there so they created a real—life drama and put dummies in various places, including the cellar.
“It’s just part of the Kenton being part of the community. If we can help in any shape or form then of course we’re delighted to be part of that.”
If any businesses have buildings that the fire service could use call Mr Reay on 07788 183050.
• The refurbishment work at the Kenton will see the box office and bar redesigned and repositioned and the foyer will be repainted. It’s the first work of its kind to be carried out in the last 50 years. The theatre will re—open in the first week of September.