Fire death investigation cautiously welcomed despite fire chief's accusations

The FBU cautiously welcomes the call by Mr Bernard Jenkin MP for an investigation into the tragic death of an elderly woman found by fire crews at a fire in Chappel, Essex. However, the FBU refutes chief fire officer David Johnson’s accusations that the FBU ever criticised the retained fire crews or emergency fire control staff or that the FBU requested an investigation into reported delays attending the fatal fire. The FBU seeks public assurances there will be no witch-hunt.

Mick Rogers, Essex FBU Brigade Secretary: “Our thoughts are with the family, friends and neighbours of the deceased, as well as with the fire crews that attended the fatal fire. We welcome Mr. Jenkin’s call for an investigation provided its aim is to learn lessons to improve the speed of 999 response for the future and will not be used as an excuse to point the finger of blame at a scapegoat. Also, we’re not sure Mr. Jenkin’s concerns will be assuaged given the chief’s extraordinary outbursts in yesterday’s media release. It seems the chief has already decided and announced the outcome of the investigation before instructing a senior officer to look into all the circumstances. This is reminiscent of the approach taken in the recent disciplinary cases against more than forty Essex firefighters who wrote confidential letters to their local politicians.

“We are also concerned at the service’s apparent pre-occupation with trying to deflect attention away from any bad news story by trying to blame the FBU and attempting to create professional mistrust between the retained and wholetime firefighters who work alongside each other every day on the frontline. There is not a shred of truth in the claims made that the FBU criticized the fire crews sent from Halstead or our members who handled the call in the emergency fire control room. In fact, in our immediate answer to media enquiries we praised the professionalism of the crews that were sent despite the mix-up. Most of the chief’s outburst in the media release yesterday has no basis in fact. Quite frankly, given the considerable resources spent by the service on PR & media, we would suggest the tax-payers of Essex and those close to the deceased all deserve far, far better from a public statement made in response to events where a life has sadly been lost.”

The facts of the fatal incident show that for whatever reason the wrong address was provided to fire crews attending the incident. In total 4 fire crews were sent from two fire stations – Sudbury in Suffolk and Halstead in Essex – to an address in Mount Bures, Essex. Whilst en-route the crews were informed that the address was actually in Chappel, Essex. The fire appliances were redirected and made their way to the property which was found to be on fire. Tragically fire crews discovered the body of an elderly woman in an upstairs bedroom.

Mick Rogers: “It appears that the member of the public who reported the fire was most upset by the time between his call and the arrival of the fire appliances. There seem to have been two main problems. Firstly, confusion as to the address of the property on fire which led to appliances being re-directed when already en-route. Secondly it would appear that crews from the fire stations in the best position to respond quickest to the house on fire – Colchester and Coggeshall – were never mobilised. Members have raised concerns with us about possible conflicts in the IT system and the recent changes in mobilising policies. We hope these possible causes are properly investigated.

“What no-one can be sure of, and presumably what Mr. Jenkin wants to know, is whether or not a faster response would have changed the tragic circumstances of this incident and what the service plans to do to ensure quicker responses to 999 calls in the future? After all, what we all know already is that in life-threatening emergencies, every second counts.”

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