Accusations rife over Holloway fire death

A PENSIONER died when fire ripped through her seventh-floor flat on Sunday night – while the nearest fire crew sat stranded at their station unable to use their fire engine.

Mary Kendrick, 74, was pronounced dead at the scene after she was trapped in the burning flat, in Pollard Close, off Holloway Road, Holloway.

The first firefighters took about eight minutes to reach the block after being called at 9.57pm. But firefighters at Holloway fire station, less than a mile away in Hornsey Road, said they could have been there in 90 seconds if London Fire Brigade (LFB) had returned an engine it removed on October 17.

Paul Carpen, Holloway representative of the Fire Brigades Union, which is currently in dispute with the LFB over restructuring plans and whose members are working to rule, said: “The removal of our fire engine has meant that we as firefighters were unable to get to that fire as quickly as we could have done.

“This has resulted in a member of the public losing their life and the woman’s husband being in hospital in a serious condition.

“If that pump was here we could have been at the incident in 90 seconds to two minutes. Within five minutes we could have been on the top floor and giving her first aid.”

An LFB spokeswoman said: “On Sunday evening a fire engine was available at Holloway fire station. That fire engine was not called to this particular incident because it was attending a call to a burst water main. Instead, as per normal, an appliance from Islington fire station, which is nearby, attended.

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“If the FBU confirmed that they will not take any further strike action, the engines that have been removed from service could be returned.”

A firefighter who was on duty at the time, but asked not to be named, said: “We would have been there a lot quicker than the fire engines that did attend. We can’t say for certain whether we would have saved a life – but seconds make all the difference.”

Mrs Kendrick’s husband, who is also in his 70s, managed to escape the blaze and is recovering in hospital.

Joanne Knight, 25, who lives in the flat directly underneath, said: “The house was ablaze for a while before the firefighters got here.

“There were flames shooting out from every window. One of the neighbours and the lady’s husband were trying to break down the door because she was trapped inside.

“The husband was covered in black soot. He looked straight at me with this most devastated face, as if he knew there was nothing he could do.”

Crews from Islington, Kentish Town and Hornsey tackled the blaze and finally got it under control at 12.30am on Monday.

LFB withdrew one of Holloway fire station’s two engines as the FBU prepared to strike over contracts and shift patterns in October.

Firefighters said they are not allowed to operate the remaining vehicle without a senior officer. The blue watch, which was on duty on Sunday night, has not had a senior officer for weeks – and because firefighters are working to rule as part of their ongoing strike action, no-one is stepping up to the role.

The withdrawn engine is of a different type, which junior officers can operate – meaning the Holloway crew would have attended the fire if it had been returned.

A third fire engine with an outside crew was brought in by LFB to cover Holloway on Sunday night, which attended the burst water main as the remaining, out of service vehicle sat in the station.