Essex: Fire service admits mistakes in fatal house blaze

ESSEX fire service last night admitted it was at a wrong address three miles away while a bed-ridden woman was trapped in a house blaze.

Joanna Ball, 79, died in the blaze in The Street, Chappel, which took a retained crew from Halstead at least 15 minutes to get to.

The delay has prompted Bernard Jenkin, MP for Harwich and North Essex, to call for an urgent enquiry into the mistake.

Essex Fire and Rescue Service (EFRS) said crews were en route to Chappel but that a second call from fire control redirected them to Mount Bures. But a spokeswoman for the service said it is unclear at this stage who or what prompted this rerouting.

Ed Durand raised the alarm after spotting smoke coming from the semi-detached property around 5.15 on Friday morning.

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But he said when he left the scene - after aborting a rescue attempt because of the density of the smoke - around 20 minutes later the fire service had still not arrived.

EFRS confirmed they were alerted to the fire at 5.22am and that the first crew from Halstead arrived at 5.37, the second at 5.41.

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Two further crews from Sudbury, who were also misdirected, arrived at 5,45 and 5.51.

Mick Rodgers, secretary of Essex Fire Brigades’ Union, claimed the call was made to fire control at 5.21.

“Sixteen minutes is excessive and meanwhile the house was on fire,” he said. “Obviously it’s not the fault of the retained fire fighters because they have been sent to the wrong address.”

Mr Rodgers also claimed a full-time crew from Colchester should have attended, as it was on their patch.

“We stand by the claim any cuts to the frontline could result in a death,” he added. “In this instance I would not say cuts have caused the delay in attending, there’s been at least two errors which have led to these delays.”

Mr Jenkin said: “We don’t known that the delay was the decisive factor.

“However the fire service should conduct an internal enquiry, urgently, to establish why the delay occurred and if it was decisive I would certainly wish to know the outcome and I imagine the coroner would also be interested.

“My sympathy goes out to the family of the elderly lady, my thoughts are with them.”

A spokeswoman for EFRS disputed Essex FBU’s claim that the fire was on Colchester’s patch.

“It was a rural place and Suffolk would have been first attendees for this location,” she said. “Halstead appliances were sent to support.”

She added that the FBU claims were inaccurate and misinformed and not helpful to the public.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service said it was instructed to attend the incident by Essex fire control.

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