At 15.20 on Friday (1 November), crews arrived at the site on Perry Lane and at the height of the fire 120 firefighters were dealing with the incident, which involved 1500 tonnes of scrap metal and gas cylinders.
A silver meeting was held minutes before the firefighters’ strike was due to begin at 18.30 and the fire was classified as a major incident. The London Fire Brigade (LFB) issued a recall notice to all firefighters who were on strike asking them to attend on a voluntary basis.
The FBU deemed the fire not to be a major incident as there was no danger to life and instructed its members to ignore the recall. A tweet from the FBU read: ‘Contrary to statement of London Fire Brigade, FBU members are NOT being recalled for the Dagenham fire. LFB has breached recall agreement.’
As a result, contingency firefighters handled the blaze until the strike ended at 23.00 when an additional six appliances attended the scene. London fire commissioner Ron Dobson criticised FBU for instructing firefighters to ignore the recall notice. He said: ‘Our contingency fire service plans include an agreement with the FBU that in the event of a major incident the FBU will work with us for the safety of all.
‘Upon us needing to use that agreement the union advised firefighters to stay on strike as there was no risk to life and no agreement on the request – despite the fact that we had the agreement in place. They referred to the Dagenham fire as a major fire in their own message to their members and then decided it wasn’t a major incident.’
Chief Fire Officers Association president Steve Fuller described the decision by firefighters to walk away from the incident as ‘shameful’. He told Sky News: ‘I think it just goes against my instincts to have firefighters walking away from an incident in progress. I understand their right to strike. All over the country firefighters were on strike, and in London as well, and behaved impeccably and professionally.
‘What I did not want to see was firefighters on the television walking away from an incident, and I don’t think the fire service would want to associate itself with that sort of behaviour.’
Hours before the strike Fire Minister Brandon Lewis made a fresh offer to the FBU over the pension dispute on the condition the strike was called off. The union described the offer as worse than previous offers. FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: ‘By worsening the proposals for firefighters’ pensions, the government has now put a further obstacle in the way of negotiations, but after two years of talks the Fire Brigades Union remain committed to a resolution.
‘No firefighter wanted a strike, but we must defend the fire service, public safety and our pensions.’
Firefighters staged a third strike this morning (4 November), which lasted two hours between 6.00 and 8.00.