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Pictures & Video: Fire commander defends crews who left Dagenham scrapyard inferno to strike

PUBLISHED: 13:42 05 November 2013 | UPDATED: 16:41 05 November 2013

Smoke rising from the scrapyard fire in Dagenham. Picture: Chris Waite.

Smoke rising from the scrapyard fire in Dagenham. Picture: Chris Waite.

Archant

A fire commander has defended crews who left a “major” scrapyard blaze to go on strike, insisting “no-one wanted to walk away”.

A fire engine at the sceneA fire engine at the scene

Dagenham fire station commander Paul McClenaghan took charge of operations as more than 120 firefighters and 20 pumps battled to contain flames rising 30 metres high at Van Dalen scrap merchants in Perry Road, Dagenham, on Friday.

The fire, which burned for more than 14 hours and destroyed 1,500 tonnes of scrap metal, began three hours before a planned strike by members of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) as part of an ongoing dispute over government pension reforms.

The FBU confirmed all of its members took industrial action, handing the incident over to appointed contingency crews during the four-and-a-half hour strike period before returning after 11pm.

Mr McClenaghan, who is also the FBU north east London officers’ representative, said: “Not one person wanted to leave that job.

Fire Timeline

3.19pm — Fire crews called to fire at Van Dalen scrap merchants in Dagenham, pumps from Barking are first on the scene

4.40pm — London Fire Brigade (LFB) warns residents to close windows and doors against black smoke

5pm — The number of crews tackling the blaze doubles to 120 firefighters and 20 pumps

6.30pm — Fire declared a “major incident” by the LFB who issues a recall to duty order for striking firefighters

6.30pm — Firefighters due to start four-and-a-half-hour strike in dispute over pensions

7pm — FBU takes to Twitter claiming it has not been consulted over recall to duty order and disagrees with the order

7pm to 8pm — Union members leave tackling the fire to contingency crews and some are reportedly stranded without transport at Dagenham Docks

11pm — Strike ends and six fire engines with 35 firefighters go to relieve contingency crews

5.52am — Fire brought under control

“Some people were really struggling to leave and I was one of them. Ultimately it’s completely against our nature to walk away from a fire.

“Had there been life involved or risk of further spread [firefighters] would not have walked.”

He added crews had made the fire “as safe as possible” before striking, with most leaving half-an-hour to an hour after the agreed 6.30pm strike start time.

Smoke from the fire could be seen for miles around with many of our readers sending in pictures via social media and email.

Aftermath of a fire in Van Dalen UK Limited scrapyard in a Dagenham Docks.Aftermath of a fire in Van Dalen UK Limited scrapyard in a Dagenham Docks.

Police helped enforce road closures around the area and establish a cordon due to fears that gas cylinders at the yard could explode.

Ian Wall, who photographed the scene, told the Post: “The flames are at least 20 to 30 metres high, if not more. The plume of smoke is massive.”

The incident sparked a row between the union and London Fire Brigade over a recall-to-duty order, which the FBU claims was carried out without its agreement.

The voluntary order was made once the fire was declared a “major incident” by the brigade due to its “scale and seriousness”.

The fire in Chequers lane DagenhamThe fire in Chequers lane Dagenham

Under the procedures’ terms, striking staff who would normally be on duty were recalled to their fire stations.

Gordon Fielden, regional chairman of London FBU labelled the move as “deplorable and wrong” and said it represented a “flagrant abuse” of the recall-to-duty agreement.

The fire was eventually brought under control at just before 6am on Saturday and crews were still at the scene throughout the day using diggers to turn over the debris and reveal any deep seated pockets of fire, said an LFB spokesman.

Van Dalen would not comment.

The view from above of the fire taken by the MPS helicopterThe view from above of the fire taken by the MPS helicopter

A further two-hour strike was carried out by FBU members on Monday morning from 6am to 8am.

• Click on the link to see a full gallery of pictures on the fire.


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