Chemical crisis was damp squib

bowbakc house DIM officers
bowbakc house DIM officers

A SUSPECTED chemical gas leak that prompted one of the biggest fire, police and ambulance turnouts in city history has turned out to be .... a load of hot air.

For despite hours of specialist searches no problems have been detected at Bowback House, the workplace of city Inland Revenue and DWP employees.

The four-storey CMK building became the focus of a massive red alert last Wednesday after staff complained of a “funny smell” shortly after lunch.

When 27 people said the acrid aroma was causing them breathing difficulties, headaches, nausea or stinging eyes, somebody, believed to be a manager, made a 999 call.

Within minutes more than 100 police officers, firefighters, paramedics and ambulance staff poured into Silbury Boulevard. The fire service set up a decontamination tent while worried tax office workers were medically examined by paramedics in two shelter tents.

The response from all three emergency services matched that required by one of its official red alert training exercises, which cover everything from air crashes to nuclear disasters.

One onlooker said: “ We really thought something terrible happened. We wondered if it was maybe a sabotage attack.”

Experts from the fire service Detection, Identification and Monitoring Unit, trained to detect every hazardous substance known to man, searched the building from top to bottom, testing all elecrtical and cooling equipment.

This week a fire service spokesman confirmed: “No harmful substances were found.”

Health and safety experts could also find nothing amiss.

“An investigation was made and there was no need for any further action,” said an HSE spokesman.

Inland Revenue bosses are now puzzling over the cause of the strange smell and the symptoms of their staff.

“It is a mystery to them and it is a mystery to us,” admitted spokesman Bob Gaiger. “We reacted to a situation and it was better to be safe than to be sorry.”

City emergency services are echoing the same sentiment.

A fire service spokesman said: “During the early stages of this incident, we had to make a lot of quick decisions and err on the side of caution. We are relieved that it did not develop into a worst-case scenario, and we hope that life at Bowback House is now back to normal.”