Pete Cooper is a steward at Warrington Wolves and has been doing this role as the chief steward in the West Stand (or away end) at the Halliwell Jones since 2001 (back at Wilderspool stadium)
A particular day highlighted the importance of having stewards at professional sporting fixtures. It was a Sunday afternoon and a Championship Finals Day was taking place with three games on in one day at the same stadium. That presented its own logistical issues with different sets of supporters mingling. In the West Stand just before the third game of the afternoon there were nearly 1500 people in the stand.
It came to the attention of Pete and the team of stewards that someone had been smoking in the female toilets, against the stadium rules. The person had left the toilets and was nowhere to be found but the consequences of one discarded cigarette was that a fire begun to take hold. Pete radioed the stadium manager to request an emergency fire alarm call to the fire service.
The quick-thinking head steward began to put out the fire with a fire extinguisher, following his fire training at the club, enabling him to be able to be confident to deal with the fire. Then there was the issue of excessive smoke after the fire had been extinguished and this was causing distress to Pete and other stewards. The decision was taken to evacuate the stand of supporters to prevent any distress for those attending the final game of the National League One Grand Final between Halifax and Featherstone Rovers.
The blaze started at 6pm in a store room in the women’s toilets in the concourse under the West Stand and the evacuation led to the game being delayed for more than an hour. Firefighters were called at 6.05pm and led to the stand’s toilets where there was a lot of smoke. The blaze started in a cleaner’s cupboard next to a cubicle in the ladies’ toilets and damage was confined to the contents of the cupboard and surrounding pipework. Smoke was cleared from the stand using positive pressure fans but it was decided to move Halifax fans to the East Stand.
Supporters were initially told to move on to the pitch before they were escorted by police to the East Stand at the opposite end of the stadium. Halifax fans were moved from the West stand onto the pitch during the televised game against Featherstone Rovers while fire alarms went off.
An investigation found the cause of the fire was deliberate by a discarded cigarette. Nobody was injured but the incident delayed the game for more than an hour while fans were evacuated onto the pitch.
John Turner, of Warrington’s blue watch, said: “The toilets were accessible to the general public at the time and due to the location and extent of the fire it would appear that it was lit from beneath the cubicle. “The actions and procedures of the stadium staff were exemplary.”
“On our arrival crews were directed to the incident without delay and the stadium was fully evacuated of over 1400 people in a calm and professional manner. “I will be writing to the manager to convey our thanks to his staff on a job well done.”
I am sure rugby league fans who were present on the day were completely unaware of the work that goes on behind the scenes at rugby league games to keep all supporters safe.
State of Mind would like to thank all stewards at all sports grounds for keeping us safe watching the sports we love