How I tended to fire victims on Bradford’s worst night

'Like it was yesterday': Bradford stadium blaze is etched in Sylvia Coleman's memory
'Like it was yesterday': Bradford stadium blaze is etched in Sylvia Coleman's memory
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nurse Sylvia Coleman remembers the fateful date of Saturday May 11 1985, like it was yesterday.

The 56-year old was on duty at St Luke’s Hospital on the day of the Bradford City stadium blaze, one of the worst fire disasters in the history of football, which broke out during a league match, killing 56 and injuring at least 265.

Miss Coleman was on duty in the ‘receiving room’, where many of the victims were brought in, on the tragic day 31 years ago.

In the months following, she tended to patients on the hospital’s plastic surgery wards, many of whom had suffered major burns to their hands and heads. She is one of Bradford Teaching Hospitals’ last remaining members of staff to have tended to the injured on that day. And now, as she gets ready to retire on Monday, she has recalled the moments that are etched in her - and the city’s memory - forever.

Miss Coleman, from Allerton, Bradford, said: “I remember the day of the fire as if it was yesterday. We were so overwhelmed in the days and weeks following the fire.

“Feeding times were particularly difficult for patients because of the multiple burns to their hands, they could not feed themselves, so members of the public would come in to help relieve staff so that we could concentrate on tending to the wounds.

“There was many a tear shed among staff and patients as people relived the horrors of the fire or grieved for a relative they had lost.

“We consoled ourselves with a cup of tea, maybe a hug too, and then off you went back to your duties again.

“I also remember it being a time of great teamwork as it bonded nursing staff together forever.”

Altogether, Miss Coleman has dedicated nearly 38 years’ service to the city’s patients.

She began her nurse training at Bradford School of Nursing, based at St Luke’s Hospital, in 1977 before going to work on the hospital’s burns, plastics and maxillofacial unit in 1980.

She then moved to the Bradford Royal Infirmary’s plastics and maxillofacial ward before transferring to its plastics, trauma and dressing service in 2014.

In 1999 she was awarded a ‘Hospital Oscar’ for her services to the Trust.

Throughout her long nursing career, the victims of the Bradford fire have never been far from Miss Coleman’s thoughts.

“Without a doubt, the fire has had the biggest effect on my nursing career,” she said. “I remember the patients vividly; some I still see around the hospital from time to time, while others have become good friends. It was very humbling to be able to look after all those people and I was delighted that I got to renew acquaintances with many of them during events to commemorate the 30th anniversary last year. It helped to bring everything full circle for me. It also put some closure on it for me.”

Speaking of her hospital career, she said the NHS has been “my little family”, adding: “I will shed a tear when I take off my uniform and leave the hospital for the final time.”

Miss Coleman plans to spend the first few months of her retirement catching up with friends and family and travelling, before thinking about coming back to work at the hospitals as a volunteer, Her retirement means Advanced Nurse Practitioner, Terry Wood, 52, will be the last remaining member of staff to have worked on the day of the Bradford fire.