RESIDENTS looked on as flames tore through a Smith’s Wood tower block last week – smoke streaming upward into the damp August sky.
But not one of the crowd called 999, because the blaze at Girton House had in fact been started by West Midlands Fire Service.
They are using the flats, which are scheduled for demolition, for training in how to tackle high-rise fires.
Last Wednesday, locals gathered at the foot of the 15-storey building to see part of the derelict apartments set alight.
For added authenticity, the fire engines turned up all sirens blazing, with crews following an identical procedure to a real-life emergency.
However, strong winds accelerated the spread of the flames, adding an element of uncertainty to the exercise.
Pete Drummond, Solihull Fire Station commander, said: “We do not have a similar high-rise training resource anywhere in the West Midlands, so this really is fantastic.”
Firefighter Ben Behan was among the first to tackle the blaze, armed with a hose reel and breathing apparatus – he said that flat fires were among the most dangerous environments that firefighters work in.
“At the back of your mind there’s always the thought that firefighters have been lost in these kinds of incidents, so it helps to sharpen your focus.”
Girton House is due to be bulldozed next year as part of the North Solihull Regeneration project, with Solihull Community Housing offering the premises to the fire service in the interim.
It’s thought that neighbouring Gonville House, also due for demolition, may be used for a similar training exercise in the future.