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Wednesday, 13 November, 2002, 20:25 GMT
First death as fire strike begins
Two firefighters tackle a blaze
Firefighters say they have no option but to strike
The fire strike in Wales has seen its first casualty after an elderly woman died after a blaze at a house in mid Wales.

A Ministry of Defence Green Goddess fire crew was despatched to the home in Newtown, Powys, barely an hour after the national fire strike started at 1800 GMT on Wednesday.

In case of fire
Call 999
Get out
Stay out

A team using breathing apparatus was sent with the RAF crew - who pulled the 76-year-old from the house - after the alarm was raised around 1900 GMT.

The pensioner was treated at the scene by paramedics and taken by ambulance to the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital where she later died.

A spokesman at the Carmarthen Joint Operation Control Centre said retained firefighters - who are not striking - also attended the incident shortly after the RAF personnel.

A number of striking firefighters in the town also crossed their own picket line to try and assist in the rescue.

The stand-in fire crews were despatched shortly after 1904 GMT when the emergency call was received, he said.

A Green Goddess refuels
The RAF is staffing many Green Goddesses

It took the Green Goddess nine minutes to arrive at the scene.

"Forced entry was made into the premises," the spokesman said.

"At 1920 GMT some retained firefighters arrived."

Dick Pearson, Wales Regional Officer of the Fire Brigades Union, said it appeared the woman's death would not have been avoided even if a regular fire crew had been the first on the scene.

He said: "The striking firefighters did receive the message, they investigated, and they turned out to the incident.

"Firefighters are in a very difficult moral position here and in this case the serving firefighters at Newtown actually turned out to attempt to assist their community."

Common causes of fire
Unattended cooking
Unsafe use of candles and nightlights
Children playing with matches and lighters
Smoking in bed

The Newtown incident is one of a number the 40 Green Goddess crews in Wales have faced since they took on the role of providing fire cover for the duration of the 48-hour stoppage.

Two cars caught fire in a street in Maesteg minutes after the stoppage began.

Police waited the arrival of the Green Goddess stationed at Litchard Territorial Army Centre in Bridgend, nine miles away.

The fire engine crew put out the blaze which had spread to a lamppost threatening residents who had been evacuated.

In north Wales a Green Goddess crew based at Kinmel Bay was called to a fire in a market stall in Prestatyn.

The call came in at 1753 GMT, minutes before the fire strike started.

Emergency call-outs

A Green Goddess crew based at the BP works in Port Talbot, south Wales, were called out to a minor fire at 1840 GMT.

The Green Goddesses, last seen on the streets 25 years ago, are operating out of 37 fire stations.

They are directed by special command centres in the north, south, and west staffed by military personnel and senior fire officers.

All Green Goddesses are accommpanied by a police patrol vehicle.

There have been a number of other emergency callouts but the MoD said they have been dealt with by retained firefighters who are not on strike.

However, serving fire officers in Merthyr Tydfil who were called out minutes before the UK-wide industrial action began attended a blaze as normal.

The crew were applauded by their colleagues as they set off from the station three minutes before 1800 GMT on Wednesday to attend a car fire between Dowlais Top and Abergavenny.

Wales' three fire services have each issued a telephone number people can ring for more information on how to protect themselves:

Mid and West Wales 24-hour helpline - 01267 223044/229286.

South Wales Fire Service home safety helpline - 0800 328 1830.

North Wales Community Fire Safety Team - 01745 343431.

The BBC's Lucy Atherton in Cardiff
"They've had a handful of calls here"
Dick Pearson, Fire Brigades Union
"This is a desperate fire tragedy which would have happened even if there had been no strike action taking place."
Brigadier Robert Aitken
"No-one is pretending it's going to be as good as what the regular firefighters could provide if they were not on strike."

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