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John Skinner was 22 when he attended the Summerland fire in 1973, where he entered the building to have to immediately flee as an explosion went off, and then he maintained the pumps which used up all of the swimming pool's water by the time morning came.

John begins the conversation with a description of the Fire Service as he found it in 1970 when there were a number of station visits to various sites, including Summerland, familiarising the fire fighters with the buildings, should they ever be there in an emergency situation.

2 August 1973 was a momentous day in John’s household, as his wife had returned home from the hospital with their first child that morning. But that evening he received a call to the station, where he learned of a fire at Summerland. Those present did not suspect it was as bad as it was until they rounded the corner onto the promenade and saw the building aflame.

John’s first task was to run two extra hoses into the building, but an explosion went off when he got inside and all were evacuated immediately. He was then posted to set up and maintain the running of a water pump from the swimming pool. Other teams brought their own pumps and soon he was in charge of five pumps. There alone in the dark through the night, the pool had been entirely emptied by the morning.

The next few days brought the task of searching through the site, bringing additional trauma to those involved, such that this came to be the one fire that was never discussed around the station in the decades that followed.

John finishes the conversation reflecting on how his view of the fire changed dramatically after meeting a survivor, who allowed him to understand that the fire was not an event that happened for the space of one evening, but which has had and continues to have a life-long role in people’s lives.

This interview was conducted as a part of the Summerland Remembered project commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Summerland Fire on 2nd August 1973.


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  • John Skinner interviewed by James Franklin (30 March 2023)

More Photos

  • John Skinner in the mid-1970s