Memories of 'brave' firefighters who died fighting warehouse blaze 30 years ago
- Credit: Courtesy of the families
Today marks 30 years since two Silvertown firefighters lost their lives tackling a blaze at a warehouse in Bromley-by-Bow.
Terry Hunt from Chadwell Heath and David Stokoe from Hornchurch were among the first crews to arrive at the five-storey building blaze in Gillender Street on July 10, 1991.
The fire broke out on the second floor of Hays Business Services' warehouse, which stored records, files and paperwork. Fourteen people escaped with their lives after the fire broke out.
One hundred firefighters and 20 fire engines from stations including Stratford, Plaistow, East Ham, Millwall, Whitechapel, Poplar and Bow fought the flames.
A London Fiire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson said at the time: "Conditions were very difficult. It was a very deep-seated fire and there were a lot of combustible materials.
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"Visibility was very poor and there was a great deal of smoke."
Crews reported the heat being so intense that concrete could be seen melting inside the building.
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A firefighter from Bow said at the time: "I can't remember anything like this. All our pumps are on the warehouse and we're desperately trying to get more."
The East London Advertiser reported days later that the heat and humidity on the night and the maze-like warehouse interior made the job of taming the fire even harder.
Mr Hunt and Mr Stokoe had entered the inferno to lay guide lines to help colleagues find their way around the smoke-filled building.
But tragedy struck when they were overcome by fumes, according to initial press reports. Paramedics and doctors from the air ambulance battled to revive them before they were rushed to The Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel.
Sadly, Mr Hunt, 33, and 25-year-old Mr Stokoe - who had only been a firefighter less than two years - were pronounced dead on arrival.
Mr Hunt, who was born in Plaistow, had been in service since 1979, moving to Silvertown fire station in 1989.
The former St Bon's pupil was a keen footballer who took part in trials for West Ham United, Manchester United and Leyton Orient.
A colleague of Mr Stokoe's father, who was a police officer, said: "[He] is the sort of policeman who would be first on the scene. It seems his son was following his example."
Both men left behind grieving families and a community mourning the loss of two brave men whose deaths led the LFB and Fire Brigades Union to launch separate investigations.
The Independent reported in October 1992 that the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) had served two improvement notices on the London Fire and Civil Defence Authority, which was the fire authority for the capital from 1986 until 2000.
The HSE alleged that firefighters in London were "inadequately" trained and safety "poorly monitored", according to the Independent.
It was reported that Mr Hunt and Mr Stokoe died after running out of breathing apparatus oxygen while fighting the fire.
In the days following the incident, the Newham Recorder reported that the East End was in mourning for two brave heroes.
Dozens of floral tributes were laid outside the fire station where they were based, including a poppy wreath from the North Woolwich and Silvertown branch of the Royal British Legion.
Tony Westbrook, who was station commander for Silvertown, said at the time: "We are all gutted but we are all here. It helps us to be with one another."
On Saturday, July 10, a private memorial service and wreath-laying ceremony is due to take place to mark the 30th anniversary of the fire.
It is being organised by the Fire Brigades Union and London Fire Brigade to remember Mr Hunt, Mr Stokoe and the colleagues who attended the incident.
A red plaque is also due to be unveiled in their memory.
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, said: "This was a tragic loss of life that has stayed with me ever since and which affected all concerned.
"David and Terry did their duty and went into a dangerous warehouse fire, but paid with their lives.
"We continue to remember their bravery today, and they continue to be missed by friends, colleagues and their families.
"At the FBU we are committed to remembering them and fighting for firefighters‘ safety today."