A Bromley woman says she desperately tried to save an elderly neighbour who died in a house fire this morning, while claims have been made firefighters were delayed by strikes.
The fire in Lancaster Close, near Bromley South station, left one man dead, named locally as Tom Challice, 90.
Stephany Cohen, 53, heard a fire alarm while making a cup of tea at 7am.
She told News Shopper: "I heard the alarm going off. We have an elderly neighbour upstairs who is bed-ridden.
"I have a set of keys to his flat so I let myself in and went to his bedroom. I saw his bed linen was on fire. He was shouting 'help, help'. He told me to go to the kitchen and get some water to put it out.
"I went to the kitchen but I couldn't find a bowl or anything to put the water in.
"I ran back down to my flat and told my flat mate to call the fire brigade. I grabbed a bowl from my kitchen and ran back up.
"This time I couldn't even get through the front door because the smoke was so horrendous.
"I couldn't even see into his room. The smoke had just taken hold so quickly."
Ms Cohen said she often visited Mr Challice, whose wife is in a home, and she and other neighbours helped him with chores.
She added the former railway officer suffered from diabetes and was looked after by carers.
She said: "It was just yesterday I was getting a set of keys cut for him. He was a very individually-spirited person, but he needed people to help him.
"We all look out for each other on this little estate."
Neighbour Patricia Westrup, 69, added: "It is just a shock. It is so traumatic, I'm still trembling.
"We all used to look after him, do his shopping. He had fantastic carers who visited him. Now it's all ended just like this.
"He had a good brain as well. He liked his horse racing and his sports. He always had his copy of the Telegraph. It is so sad."
Les Hobday, 87, said: "He was just a nice guy. He was very trusting. I got £300 out of a cash machine for him yesterday - that's how much he trusted me."
Fire service 'delayed by strikes'
There has been a suggestion strike action may have affected the response time to today's fatal fire.
Fire Brigades Union (FBU) London region has said it may be that strike action impacted how the emergency was dealt with.
News Shopper has been told a contingency fire crew waited outside the premises for a senior officer to arrive, who then instructed the team to enter in breathing apparatus.
It is understood a regular crew would have gone into the building immediately upon arrival, increasing the chance of rescuing the victim.
Regional secretary Paul Embery said in a statement today (July 16): “This fire is a tragedy, and our thoughts go out to the victim’s family.
"Our information suggests that the strikebreaking fire crews took significantly longer to arrive than regular crews would have done.
"Londoners were told by the government’s fire minister Brandon Lewis that ‘robust’ contingency arrangements were in place for strike periods.
"Clearly, those arrangements have failed disastrously, and a full investigation must take place to determine what went wrong.”
Man dies in Bromley fire after strikebreaking crews take age to arrive. @BrandonLewis's "robust" contingency arrangements tragically failed.— London FBU (@LondonFBU) July 16, 2014
Mr Embery explained staff at Bromley fire station staged a pre-notified two-hour strike from 6am until 8am this morning and yesterday and said London Fire Brigade use a private contractor during any industrial action to provide relief cover.
He said: "The problem is that company only has 27 engines available across the whole of the London area where normally there would be around 150 engines manned by regular, fully-trained crew.
"The relief engines are placed at various strategic points around London, not at fire stations, but I don't know where the one came from that arrived at this incident in Bromley.
"However, it's my information that it took significantly longer than the standard target response time of within six minutes - it possibly took as long as 14 to 18 minutes to get there from the time of the call.
"That in itself is a problem. Then, to add to that, I know from the evidence of the post-incident log report that the relief engine crew then waited outside the building before a senior officer arrived who instructed them to enter it with breathing apparatus.
"I don't know how long that delay was, I believe it was possibly only a short amount of time, but it added to the problem.
"We can't say if quicker action would have prevented the man's death but it's very clear that the delays didn't help and it may have resulted in a different outcome."
A London Fire Brigade (LFB) spokesperson said: “Emergency fire contingency crews were called to a maisonette fire on Lancaster Close in Bromley this morning.
"The body of a man was found in the bedroom. Sadly he was pronounced dead at the scene. Half of the maisonette on the first floor was damaged by the blaze.
"The Brigade was called at 0717 and the fire was under control by 0802. The cause of the fire is under investigation.”
LAS sent an ambulance crew, duty officer, and a hazardous area response team, while police officers were also called at around 7.20 to reports of a fire at a maisonette.
A police spokesman said: "Officers attended and subsequently LFB found a body of a man in the address.
"He was pronounced dead at the scene. Next of kin have not been informed and enquiries are underway to do this.
"Whilst officers believe they know who the deceased is they await next of kin to be informed and a formal identification.
"The death is being treated as unexplained and the cause of the fire is being investigated.
"A post mortem examination will be scheduled in due course."
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