Glastonbury Festival is the largest music and performing arts festival in the world, running for six days in Somerset, England. In this time the event creates a small city with an entire infrastructure supporting over 200,000 people within 1.5 square miles, all contained within a five-mile fence. To put this in perspective the nearby city of Exeter has a population of 120,000 within 18 square miles within a 40+ perimeter.
This festival also includes 200 entertainment venues of various sizes and over 2000 trading stalls most of which are without the infrastructure features of a ‘built’ environment.
Involvement for Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service (DSFRS) means detailed planning prior to the event. During the festival, 24-hour resilience and support are delivered as part of a multi-agency approach with resources to cover the operational response, fire protection and enforcement, fire prevention and education and a strategic command team so that public safety is maintained.
There were no major fire incidents this year but due to the size and the variety of activities that take place, prior and during the festival, there is always the potential for major incidents to occur.
The high risk of fire was clearly demonstrated when 22,000 people had to be evacuated in July after a huge fire engulfed part of the main stage at a music festival in Spain this year.
In 2016 at the Boomtown Fair Festival in Winchester, more than 80 cars were destroyed when a blaze broke out in a car park. Over 50,000 people attend this festival. Fire scene investigators believe a lit cigarette sparked the huge fire when it ignited grass stubble around the parked vehicles.
The Service provides 24-hour cover in terms of both personnel and appliances, with teams on standby to not only assist the organisation employed by the festival but also to guide the local fire crews onto the site by pre-planned access points.
Glastonbury Festival cover the costs of DSFRS work at the Festival so that it does not impact on the Services Budget. They have had an established response and command capability since 2009, this is constantly updated. Working alongside Glastonbury Festival Fire (GFF) to provide a dual response and have a clear memorandum of understanding with Glastonbury festival Ltd on the cover we each provide. So it’s a seamless approach.
Glastonbury Fire attends rubbish, single tent, grass fires and small butane Cylinder leaking (no Fire) all other incidents will have DSFRS on-site response with additional support from nearby off-site Fire Stations.
Matt Mason, Response Resourcing Manager said: “From our point of view it was another safe and successful festival with minimal response required. Glastonbury Festival Fire attended 20 small incidents. This is largely due to all the prevention and protection work prior and during the event carried out by DSFRS. The management of the site by Glastonbury Ltd is second to none and this also naturally drives down our need to respond. As this is one of the largest temporary towns in our service area we have to be fully prepared for any potential risks.
Urban Search and Rescue team (USAR) provide the operational response on site and they offer line rescue, confined space and flood rescue as well as fire cover. They have a suite of vehicles, each selected for their different strengths. These include a 4×4 utility vehicle, 4×4 and 6×6 small pumping appliances and a KUBOTA RTV.
Prior to the festival
Before the festival opens there are already 40,000 people on-site working and this poses a variety of potential hazards. Stages are being created involving scaffolding, people working in confined spaces, vast amounts of welding, stored gas and people working at height.
USAR conducted a range of live exercises prior to the festival opening so all their planning assumptions were fully tested. The live exercises mean the crews learn the topography of the festival. This is vital as getting to the right place can be time-consuming and difficult when the festival is underway.
Matt continued: “We always work closely with South Western Ambulance Service (SWAS) which is part of our pre-plan. Last year the injuries were mostly from slips and trips due to the wet weather. This year it was heat-related injuries which we assisted with when the number of calls exceeded their planning assumptions. While still maintained our primary role on-site.”
The Festival medical centre dealt with over 2,000 causalities across the event, this was much higher than normal and due to the heat. On Wednesday USAR provided them with a decontamination tent as extra shade for the waiting causalities.
The event control centre is based in a large barn with a mezzanine floor where Silver Command sits. On the lower floor are all the agencies, security, stewards, crowd management, Glastonbury Festival Ltd has their own control centre and they all feed through to the Silver Command upstairs.
This year the extremely hot weather created great demands on Silver and the emergency services. Especially on the Wednesday (21 June) as 90,000 hot and tired festival goers arrived on site amidst massive queues. It is now understood to have been the hottest day in the festival’s entire history.
This was Group Commanders, Gerald Taylors first Glastonbury Festival he explains: “Silver started on Tuesday evening, but by 10.00am on Wednesday there was already concern about the heat (it turned out to be the hottest day in the UK since 1976).
“Before lunch, the paramedics announced they had gone into spate. Due to a number of people suffering heat stroke and collapsing they were no longer able to answer 999 calls. They asked if our teams could support them in answering the first aid calls.”
Gerald suggested they call silver and SWAST chair it. This resulted in the agencies pooling resources. The Fire Service prevention team and some supervisory officers from the site were paired up with causality carers to respond to 999 calls coordinated through the ambulance service.
Gerald said: “It worked brilliantly. A model of how silver should work. Crucially it improved the welfare of 1,000s of people. A really good effort all around.”
The next silver meeting SWAS reported that they no longer had any 999 outstanding calls and stated that this was directly due to the activities of the fire service.
Gerald said: “Glastonbury Ltd has a hot weather plan which we supported. As the larger venues were not yet in use a shade and cooling plan were developed. The sides of the tented stages were opened and Glastonbury put 1,000s of litres of water in there along with their first aiders and invited people via their social media to head there. These tents were full with people trying to get out of the sun.
“We also placed three fire engines on site from Shepton Mallet, Castle Cary and Glastonbury festival fire. They cooled people down with a spray mist as they arrived. This worked wonderfully and we received excellent national PR coverage in the media as well as on our own social media platforms.
“These activities all assisted in what could have been a very difficult situation. In total there were about 500 causalities and that was mostly in the morning. The prevention team were busy spraying water and engaging with people in queues to check they were all okay. We made a real difference to people’s lives. So a brilliant team effort.”
Prior to the festival opening to the public, all traders are visited to ensure they have considered all their risks and complied with the fire safety order. The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 applies to the onsite entertainment venues, market stalls and to the offsite sleeping accommodation. The Service is the enforcing authority for this fire safety legislation and has the statutory duty to see it is correctly applied.
The main focus of our activities was to gauge the level of compliance by responsible persons with the emphasis on education and informing.
Paul Bray, Business Safety Manager, said: “This year the Business Safety work has been carried out in all the market areas that cater to the public by operational crews from Station 60. This area includes food catering outlets, bars and general stores facilities. The focus of their activities was to gauge the level of compliance by responsible persons with the emphasis on education and informing. This has proved to be very successful, they were able to carry out 89 market traders audits.
“This has freed up the Business Safety team to be able to focus on some of the more complex areas, such as the performance stages main areas as well as the larger areas like Block 9, Shangri-La, Arcadia and the new venue of Cineramageddon, a ‘drive in’ cinema experience. These are the areas of the site that have the potential to causes problems – if there are any problems – due to the unorthodox construction that is used in building them.”
This year we have a slightly larger team of protection officers than last year, to provide resilience for future events and allow other officers to learn from the experience of working in such a unique environment.
The larger team proved to be invaluable in unexpected ways because the Grenfell Tower tragedy required two of the team members to return to Service to assist Senior management in advising on our response. The Glastonbury Business Safety team were able to continue working effectively, by making some adjustments to the management structure. Enhancing the learning for those involved.
If success of our involvement is measured by incidents, then it was a very successful festival as there were no incidents of significance and the work of the Business Safety team was highly praised by Glastonbury’s safety team at the post-festival debrief”
Working with Glastonbury Festival the DSFRS have excellent opportunities to engage with everyone attending the site, be that as a ticket holder or those employed to facilitate the event. The event guide received by each festival goer when they receive their ticket contains Fire Safety information.
Social media messages, photos and videos on both Facebook and Twitter platforms were delivered throughout the event, including proactive advice in response to incidents/activities. Both the festival and Fire Service websites are linked for in-depth information.
Daily interviews take place with Glastonbury’s resident radio station, Worthy FM, which broadcasts directly from the site 24 hours a day throughout the duration of the festival.
Marc House Community Safety Prevention Manager said: “This year more than ever we worked really closely with Glastonbury, and as a request of the senior management of the festival we added Carbon Monoxide as an additional focus within our planned risk reduction activities. The team included key people from the service which bought an excellent range of skills and experience to the team.”
Working alongside Glastonbury festival a fire safety poster campaign was created focusing particularly on Carbon Monoxide poisoning, as well as smoking and cooking close to tents. Caravans, motorhomes and the travelling community were also targeted.
The posters were displayed at key areas within Glastonbury including the Festival medical services, information centres, festival gas suppliers and all market managers.
In order to target festival goers from the onset, posters were also placed at major arrival points; these included Castle Cary railway station and the Bath and West Showground where thousands park to catch coaches into the festival.
Fire Safety Awareness
Prior to the festival, the team undertook fires safety awareness training for the stewards on site this included chip pan safety demonstrations. One particular focus was the Arcadia area that has a nightly fire show featuring a 50-tonne giant spider that shoots 60ft flames as well as 6 million volts of lighting into the sky.
Jules Bravburn, Arcadia steward manager said: “I’ve worked with the stewards for the last 13 years. This year we have over 100 stewards and any new starters have to pass the NVQ for stewarding and this includes fire safety training. It’s important that they know the right procedures, especially due to the nature of Arcadia where we have really high flames, the Lords of Lighting, fire tulips, gas bottles all sorts of fire-related things.
“We also have a campsite here within Arcadia so the stewards provide fire safety advice daily and encourage the communal use of fires rather than people lighting their own. It is vital that they have the confidence and knowledge to give out fire safety advice on behalf of Glastonbury festival. The demonstration by the fire service acts as a reminder of what they may be up against.”
Marc continued: “As usual we worked very closely with the police and the ambulance service, particularly with the extreme weather conditions that took place as everyone was arriving. The prevention team were talking to people as they queued to get in, as well as misting them with water when they were suffering in the heat. Direct feedback from the ambulance service as a result of this activity was that the number of calls they were receiving fell dramatically.
“Throughout the festival, the prevention team worked in pairs either on foot or on fire bikes. They engaged with the public, providing advice and resources relating to key risks that were delivered with a smile, and a quick quiz on fire safety knowledge! It was a great team that worked really well together.”
Working with gypsies, travellers and showmen
The travelling communities of gypsies, travellers and showmen attend Glastonbury to work prior throughout the festival. The team took the opportunity to visit the mixture of caravans, vans and trucks, building on established relationships. General fire safety information was offered as well as Smoke Alarms and Carbon Monoxide (CO) detectors.
The dangers of Carbon Monoxide
While talking to the travellers ‘Christina’ a traveller related the story about her ex-boyfriend ‘John’ who two years ago suffered from Carbon Monoxide poisoning when travelling alongside his parents while in Portugal.
In her own words Christina explains what happened:
One morning ‘John’s’ mother asked him to look at their campervan to check the gas as their heater wasn’t working. When he turned the gas on it made a small explosion so he immediately turned all the gas off. Next, he should have ventilated the campervan and left it to air, instead, he decided to investigate.
The campervan had a heater with a cupboard above containing the piping for the heater. ‘John’ opened the cupboard but the CO gases had been building up inside and he instantly felt very ill. He stumbled out the door and fell to the ground. It was very frightening.
The whole of his left side was powerless and he thought he was having a stoke. His parents rushed him to the hospital and they put him on oxygen for 30 hours as his organs had gone into failure. But there was no more the hospital could do for him, and they advised plenty of exercise, to eat healthily, and not smoke.
This was two years and he is really lucky to be alive. He still suffers from a shake on his left side. At the time he lost all his weight, I’ve never seen anyone so skinny. Since then he hasn’t been able to put weight on. So he’s gone from having a strong built to zero strength.
Now I always advise travellers if this happened to them, not to investigate. Ventilate their home and get out. As you can’t smell, taste or see CO.
Gemma Challenger from Friends, Families and Travellers a national charity based in Brighton working on behalf of Gypsies and Travellers whether settled or mobile. Gemma said: “I think it’s really important that the Fire Service is at Glastonbury talking to our community about fire safety and offering smoke alarms and CO detectors. There is a real fear of the risk of fire in a mobile or caravan, as we all know how quickly it takes hold. Most people in the travelling community know someone who has been affected by a fire.”
Author; Suzie Izzard, Press Officer, Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service
Image shows members of the Tri-Service teams at 2017 Glastonbury Festival