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Hospital fire jams town centre

PATIENTS and staff were evacuated from the Kent and Sussex Hospital, Tunbridge Wells, after fire broke out in an empty ward. No one was hurt and a well-practised emergency plan ensured the fire was tackled quickly and without panic.

But it led to long traffic jams in central Tunbridge Wells on Wednesday as Mount Ephraim was closed and diversions put in place. More than 30 firefighters from Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge, Sevenoaks, Matfield and Maidstone, some wearing breathing apparatus, tackled the blaze which broke out just before midday.

Tunbridge Wells Station Officer Lawrie Kidman, in command, said: "When we arrived a full evacuation was in progress, fire alarms were sounding and staff were helping patients out of various exits." He said the fire, in the empty ward on level six, produced thick black smoke, white fumes and intense heat. An investigation into the cause is underway.

The ward was badly damaged in the blaze which took firefighters about an hour to bring under control. The hospital's manual alarm was triggered by chief cardiac technician, Martin Lazell, who became aware of smoke as he was working nearby.

Two surgical wards below the affected ward were immediately cleared, with about 30 patients awaiting or recovering from operations among those evacuated. Val Thompson, director of operations for Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, said:"I thought the patients were superb and incredibly good-spirited despite the upset."

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