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Saturday, 23 November, 2002, 05:08 GMT
First fatality in firefighters' strike
Soldiers fighting West Bromwich fire
Soldiers fought a blaze at a West Midlands factory
A man has died in a house fire in Kent in what is believed to be the first fatality since firefighters resumed strike action on Friday.

Firefighters broke off from their strike to attend the blaze, in Maidstone, and were later joined by two military Green Goddess fire engines.

The man was pulled unconscious from the blaze but died later at Maidstone Hospital.

Factory fire

Police officers and paramedics were first on the scene, but had been beaten back by flames as they attempted to pull the man to safety.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: "The Breathing Apparatus Rescue Team then arrived and went into the building and brought the person out.

"The Kent Fire Brigade arrived shortly after that and helped the Breathing Apparatus Rescue Team tackle the fire and then the Green Goddesses arrived.

"Unfortunately the man was pronounced dead at Maidstone Hospital."

Elsewhere on Friday night, about 100 soldiers took more than two hours to bring a major factory fire in West Bromwich under control.

Soldiers running to the nearest river
Soldiers had to pump water from a nearby river
Eighteen appliances including four Red Goddess and four rescue teams attended the blaze at the Plastics Factory on Phoenix Street at 1415 GMT on Friday.

The disused factory is close to a petrol station and an industrial estate. The building was destroyed but neighbouring buildings were saved.

Firefighters on strike nearby left their picket line after being told someone was trapped inside.

Having established this was not the case they returned to the strike after giving advice to the military on how to best tackle the flames. More than 900 children were kept inside a nearby high school as smoke from the fire enveloped the area but were allowed to leave a short time after.

Within the first two hours of the firefighters' strike a 60-year-old man died in a road accident .

Retained firefighters and a Green Goddess from Redditch were called to the scene of the crash involving a car and a lorry in Pershore, Worcestershire.

The accident happened just after 1030 GMT on Friday, less than a mile from where the retained crew - who are not taking part in the strike - are stationed.

A man suffered head injuries and was confirmed dead at the scene. Two other people were injured.

First fires

One of the first fires in England was reported at about 0935 GMT in the West Midlands.

Two Green Goddesses were sent to a fire in the kitchen of a house in Chelmsley Wood in Solihull.

The crew were accompanied by a breathing apparatus team - but it is not believed anyone was in the house.

Meanwhile, the three million people who use the Tube every day have found their journeys disrupted as 22 London Underground (LU) stations shut.

The Rail Maritime and Transport (RMT) union has warned LU its members will be balloted for strikes if disciplinary action is taken against employees who refuse to work because of safety fears.

Red Goddesses

An LU spokeswoman said "At the moment we are planning to run as near a normal service as possible, but we don't know just how many of our staff might take action on safety grounds."

About 19,000 military personnel are providing fire cover during the stoppage.

Soldier in a Red Goddess
Soldiers have trained on the Red Goddesses
As well as operating the ageing Green Goddess appliances, servicemen and women are also being given access to 18 Red Goddesses.

The red engines - used by the fire service training college in Gloucestershire - boast greater pumping capacity and are faster than the Green Goddesses.

Major Ed Brain, from the Royal Regiment of Wales based in West Bromwich, said the soldiers had been training in the past few days.

"Since we finished the last fire strike we completed one day of familiarisation for the drivers and two days of training for the crews to familiarise themselves with the red fire engines and the equipment," he said.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"This is the type of incident that senior fire officers feared the most"

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