Fire chief denies Holloway death could have been averted

A LONDON Fire Brigade chief has denied firefighters could have reached a fatal flat fire more quickly and rescued its elderly victim.

Rita Dexter, deputy commissioner of the LFB, rejected claims from firefighters at Holloway station that they would have reached the blaze that killed 74-year-old Mary Kendrick in Pollard Close, Holloway, within two minutes – had one of their engines not been taken away weeks earlier.

In a report requested by London Assembly Member Navin Shah, leader of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s Labour Group, Ms Dexter said: “My conclusion is that the Fire Brigades Union has no basis for the claims they have made about the speed of the emergency response to this incident.”

Mrs Kendrick, 74, died after getting trapped in the burning seventh-floor flat on December 5. Ms Dexter said the fire was caused by “careless disposal of smoking materials”.

No crew from Holloway attended the incident, despite it being the nearest station, at less than a mile away in Hornsey Road.

Firefighters said this was because one of its engines had been removed by LFB in October, as fire chiefs prepared to cover strikes staged as part of a row over shift patterns.

Paul Carpen, Holloway representative of the Fire Brigades Union, said at the time: “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.”

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He claimed a Holloway crew could have reached the incident in 90 seconds to two minutes had the engine been there.

But Ms Dexter says the average time taken to reach Pollard Close in four other calls in 2010 was four minutes and 22 seconds.

Although firefighters did not properly record their arrival, she claimed the first engine arrived from Islington fire station in five to six minutes.

She added: “All the data suggests that the Brigade made a fast response.”

But a firefighter and FBU representative at Holloway, who did not want to be named, maintained they could have made a difference. He added: “We would certainly have got there quicker and every second counts when you’ve got a person in smoke.”

Despite firefighters agreeing to new shift patterns just before Christmas, Holloway fire station has yet to see its engine returned – and rumours are rife that the vehicle will be permanently withdrawn.

Councillor Terry Stacy, leader of the Liberal Democrat group at Islington Council and representative on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “This is madness. Just when it looks like an end might be in sight to the firefighters’ dispute, we now get this bombshell.

“There are already accusations that the recent tragic fire at Pollard Close could have been down to the usual number of fire engines not being available. We can’t risk this happening again.”