Story of the huge petrol blaze in the 1984 Summit Tunnel fire near Todmorden

Summit Tunnel fire
Summit Tunnel fire

Norwood Green man Brian Saville has captured high-profile disasters on camera for the West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

He is now retiring after 34 years in an award-winning career during which he covered the Summit Tunnel fire near Todmorden in 1984; the Bradford City fire in 1985 and the 1992 Alloid Colloids blaze at Low Moor, Bradford.

He joined the service in 1978 as a technician and promoted to visual services manager in 1985.

Since then, he has completed specialist photography and video courses, including a high profile secondment to the Home Office Forensic Science Laboratory where he produced training materials which have been used nationally for fire investigation.

He has won several awards including the National Fire Service Photographer of the year and said he had enjoyed every second of his working life.

“I have flown in helicopters, driven a tank, met and worked with some talented people, including a few famous ones,” said Mr Saville.

During his time with WYFRS he has also been responsible for the design and development of new equipment and technology.

That has included the Search and View Camera System (SAVCam), which enables firefighters to search in confined spaces.

He has also designed a CCTV system for the new Incident Control Unit and been instrumental in developing the brigade’s Silent Witness cameras attached to all fire engines across West Yorkshire, which have been rolled out across the country.

The Honorary Recorder of Bradford Stephen Gullick, commended him for the part he played in Operation Wheel (the Bradford riots) in 2001. He also received a Chief Fire Officer’s Letter of Appreciation following his work at an incident in which eight people tragically died in a house fire in Birkby, Huddersfield.

During retirement he will pursue his passion for documentary photography and video.

Story of the huge petrol blaze in the 1984 Summit Tunnel fire near Todmorden

A highly dangerous firefighting operation recorded by Mr Saville was the Summit Tunnel fire on December 20, 1984. A goods train carrying one million litres of four-star petrol in 13 tankers entered the tunnel on the Yorkshire side and a defective axle bearing derailed the fourth tanker between Todmorden and Littleborough. Only the locomotive and the first three tankers remained on the rails. Leaking petrol in the tunnel is believed to have been ignited by a hot axle box. Three crew members ran a mile to raise the alarm. Firefighters evacuated the tunnel just before the first explosion and pillars of flame rose 148ft high from the shaft outlets on the hillside above. Hot projectiles made from tunnel lining were cast out over the hillside.