the 10 most memorable days in studio history… (part three)

Posted on 15 June 2011

Fire day

replacement fryer after studio 'fire day'

It is fair to say that there are two calls that I truly fear. One is to say that someone at Studio has been hurt or taken ill and the other is that there is a fire, and yes before anyone comments I do fear these even more than the calls from H M Revenue and Customs or the bank!  Fortunately the first of these calls has not happened in the first 5 years of our business, we did have an incident of an exploding fryer once which was very serious and we were extremely lucky that no one was seriously injured. That near miss resulted in a new fryer and it was that new piece of kit that led to the second of my most feared calls occurring on 29th September. This is the story of Fire Day.

Stories like this tend to start with the line; it was a day like any other …. So, in time honoured tradition, it was a day like any other, however, on this day Emma and I were on our way to Bristol for a meeting with Visit Bristol with a view to looking at some possible expansion sites. The call came at about 11am, in fact I should say the calls as within seconds of each other Lawrence rang me and Julian rang Emma, the message from both was the same, albeit in slightly different versions of English.

“There is a fire, full evacuation, everybody’s out, there is smoke billowing from the roof, we think everyone’s OK…….”

I am not known for particularly gentle driving and certainly what followed was not gentle driving, we were about an hour away. It’s difficult to recall and describe the way the brain should work in these circumstances but I can tell you that mine just froze and I am sure Emma’s was the same, we did not speak all the way into Birmingham City Centre, but even before we had arrived Lawrence and John had been on the phone to say that the immediate danger was over and that everyone was re-entering the building after a full inspection by the Fire Brigade.

The full details of what actually occurred on the day are now of course stuff of Studio legend, but I can recall it as follows; at about 10.45 Zong was using the deep fat fryer to par cook some jacket wedges for that days lunch service, for whatever reason the thermostat on the fryer had stopped working and as Zongs back was turned the fryer over heated and the cooking oil ignited. Fortunately the team are all trained in basic fire fighting and Zong and Mark grabbed the Fire blanket located just feet away and smothered the fire, 2 seconds later to their horror the fire blanket dissolved in front of them and the flames literally hit the roof, Anna standing on the far side of the kitchen took less than a second to hit the emergency button and put the building and whole of Caxton Gate into full evacuation. 3 minutes later and all those hours of Fire and Evacuation training had come to fruition and the building was empty. Fortunately though Mark and Zong now accompanied by Lawrence decided to try one last thing and used the dry powder extinguisher, bending down low and attempting to hit the fire at the correct angle they managed to get the fire out. The Fire Brigade arrived moments later to a kitchen full of smoke but no fire. The team had done an excellent job on all fronts and most amazingly not only were all the customers back in the building within the hour but lunch went out pretty much on time, there were no wedges! By the time Emma and I arrived it was simply a case of hugging those who needed to be hugged and thanking everyone else. It was a close thing.

Four months later at our annual company away day the Catering Team did a full re-enactment of Fire Day in slow motion without the editing bleeps, it was extremely funny although I can tell you that between the directors there were a few knowing looks recalling what might have been and how close we had come to a real disaster. By the way as an aside i have just been into the kitchen to see how the guys are doing with lunch service, they are cooking Jacket Wedges in their gleaming new fryer…