‘Fire brigade misled firefighters over scale of Dagenham blaze to break strike’ – leaked documents
PUBLISHED: 14:52 07 March 2014 | UPDATED: 12:03 12 March 2014
The fire brigade “tricked” its firefighters into breaking a national strike by exaggerating the scale of a Dagenham scrapyard blaze, apparent secret documents obtained by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) suggest.
London Fire Brigade response
A spokesperson for the LFB said:“We are aware of the London region FBU newsletter, and the view contained within it that the major fire in Dagenham last year should not have been declared a major incident.
“The justification for the major incident declaration is made clear in the full Incident Management Log, which was requested by the FBU under the FOI.
“The FBU have chosen to only reference a very small part of the log rather than detailing the section which fully explains the rational for the declaration.”
A London Fire Brigade (LFB) boss allegedly begged the police to falsely declare the fire on November 1 a “major incident” – a breach of pre-strike agreements.
The explosive claim is among allegations made by the FBU based on minutes it claims to have obtained from the LFB through Freedom of Information law.
One hundred and twenty firefighters were initially needed to tackle the blaze in Perry Road, close to the junction with Chequers Lane, which involved about 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal.
A number of union members walked away from the scene three hours later to take part in a strike over pensions, leaving 30 contingency firefighters to deal with the blaze.
All on-duty firefighters were later recalled to their stations by the LFB under an agreed voluntary procedure in the event of a “major incident” – a definition the union said had never before been applied to a scrap metal fire.
“The fire in Dagenham, while large, was never worthy of major incident procedure, which is usually reserved for train crashes, fires in tower blocks, and the like,” London regional secretary Paul Embery told the Post.
Minutes taken by the police commander at a Silver Command meeting appear to show a senior brigade member made a direct request to the Metropolitan Police for the fire to be declared “major”, despite admitting it was not such “in terms of firefighting”.
The log appears to record a senior LFB officer “’requesting’ me to declare this as a major incident.
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: “The decision to declare this a major incident was taken by Acting Chief Insp Kirby who was Police Commander on scene for the Metropolitan Police. “The rationale for making this decision was in accordance with procedures set out in the London Emergency Service Liaison Panel (LESLP) Major Incident Procedure Manual, was fully detailed by Acting Chief Insp Kirby in his log.”
“When I ask him why the LFB haven’t done so already and don’t do so now, he states that, for them it is not a major incident (in terms of firefighting at the scene) but ‘everything on the periphery’ makes it so.”
The notes continue to say that after hearing the brigade’s requests the commander declared the incident “major”.
Setting out his reasoning the commander continues: “The proposed FBU industrial action... helped to galvanise my decision making.”
The national agreement had stated “no incident shall be regarded as a major incident unless it would have been regarded as such irrespective of the FBU strike action”.
The FBU have reacted angrily to the revelations.
London regional secretary Paul Embery said: “We always suspected that they acted dishonestly in an effort to break the strike, and now we have the evidence.
“The London Fire Brigade owes an apology to the union and our members for the events in Dagenham on that night, and for breaching a clear national agreement.”
The FBU believes senior brigade officers were doubtful that contingency crews could cope, and were desperate to get their regular firefighters back.
Mr Embery added: “They knew that most firefighters would be suspicious about their motives if they declared a major incident themselves, so they leant heavily on the police to do it instead.
“It was plainly dishonest and a breach of trust.
“In the run-up to the strike, the commissioner of the LFB was telling Londoners he had robust contingency plans in place and there was nothing to fear. But at the first whiff of a large fire, brigade bosses panicked and tried to trick firefighters into leaving picket lines to help them out.”
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