I worked for St John’s Ambulance for 22 years. We did all the matches and on the day of the Lincoln City match I was stationed at the corner of the ground where the fire started.
There were ten of us there on the day:
Arthur Hudson, the Superintendant
R Moss, the Divisional Sergeant
Carol Moss, his wife
It was Gary Bickerdike’s first time on duty with us – and his last – he packed it in straight away.
Arthur Hudson was presented with the Order of St John in London for saving lives at the fire. We weren’t all honoured but we were given a choice of whether we met Princess Diana and Prince Charles, or Margaret Thatcher. I chose to go to Pinderfields to meet Diana and Charles.
I remember that shortly before half time, someone called out that there was a bit of smoke coming out of the stand. People thought it was nothing to worry about to start with and some lads started dancing around it. They weren’t being malicious, they were just excited.
Then people started coming out of the stand over the wall at the front. I pulled somebody out, a young fella, but he fell on his back and he was out cold. I had to treat him. I pulled him away from the side of the wall and put him in the recovery position. Suddenly the fire leapt up like a fireball. I pulled him away across the pitch, put him back in the recovery position and checked him out. I don’t know how long it was before he came round but he told me he was called Walter. He couldn’t move so I treated him as a spinal injury. I made him a stretcher out of coats. We got him away but there were no ambulances. It took them about 15 minutes to arrive so the people who were helping were looking to us to tell them what to do. They were asking for things we didn’t have, such as plasma.
Then I went to help the people in the middle of the pitch, the really badly injured. But my superintendant told me: ‘You can’t do anything for these people. One fella was screaming. The superintendant said: ‘Just lie him down, make him as comfortable as possible. Make sure he’s breathing.’ They were in so much shock.
As well as skin burns, smoke inhalation would have burnt their lungs so they couldn’t breathe properly. That’s why they were screaming. They were in a lot of pain. A policeman’s head was on fire and he lost half of his face.
Then a woman came to me. Her hands were melting, really badly burnt. I found out later that she lives in Idle and she was all right.
I was going to go round to the back of the stand but I was stopped. The police said: ‘Don’t go any further.’ Our [St John’s Ambulance] team were all over because others came to the stadium to join us. Some were outside the ground treating people. One, called Stephen got his ear burnt. Another called Ronnie dealt with a fella who had half his face missing.
It was a weird experience because it felt as if I wasn’t there. I’d distanced myself from it. It was as if someone else was doing it for me. That’s how I blocked out the horror.
A friend of mine, Ray Alderman, who was a safety rep for the council and a special constable found two people – a father and son – fused together by the heat at the back of the stand by the turnstile and news of that came over the radio.
We were there long after the stadium cleared. I eventually got away about a quarter to half past four. All I could think was that it was like a nuclear holocaust.
One benefit was improved treatment of burns. They started using plastic. As a youngster I was in the earliest burns unit. It was at St Luke’s at that time. My hand was fixed by Mr Barclay who pioneered plastic surgery in Bradford and he became President of the burns units in the UK.
My own injury and the help I received is why I joined St John’s – it was to pay them back. Years after my injury, in 1992, I benefited from the advancements made as a result of the Bradford fire. They fixed up my hand at the burns’ unit and I’ve got full use of it. When I had the tendon transplant I had the Bradford Sling – the new one they invented after the fire. It was fantastic – much more comfortable than a normal sling. It had much more padding.