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Les Quayle was in command of the first fire engine to arrive at the Summerland Fire. He was alone as the first fire fighter to enter the building to begin the evacuation, though he was eventually overcome by heat exhaustion.

As was the policy at the time, one fire engine was dispatched when a report of a fire came into the fire station on John Street in central Douglas. As they came out onto the promenade, Les and the rest of the crew were unsure if it was the building or merely the gorse on the headland behind, but when they arrived at the scene, things became horribly clear.

Les immediately tried to call in for help, however, both the fire engine radio and a couple of telephones by the electric railway sheds failed to work, but finally he got through to all for all available help.

Returning to the scene, his team had their hoses working already and so he went to try to help the evacuation from within the building itself.

When he entered the lower level, with the children’s area, the fire alarm had not rung and so many there had no idea there was a problem. Les went up to the main level, where he had to drag an inebriated and resistant man from the building. Upon returning into the building, the oroglass ceiling was dripping into the open stairwell to the floor above, and so Les concentrated on breaking down a door to enable those from the basement level to leave more easily.

After this, Les’ recollections turn hazy as he made his way further into the lower level, towards the swimming pool, where he began to be overcome by heat exhaustion. Luckily for him, his disorientation led him outside the building, where he was picked up on the promenade by a policeman, who sent him off towards the hospital.

Les’ reflections on his experience bring home the professionalism and dedication of the fire service at Summerland, and something of the experiences he and others have lived with since that time.

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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  • Les Quayle interviewed by James Franklin (30 March 2023)