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Woman dies in Welsh house fire just an hour after strike begins.

Byline: CARL YAPP, CLAIRE HILL AND TONY TRAINOR

A WOMAN died in a house blaze last night just an hour after firefighters began their strike.

Striking firemen at Newtown broke their picket line to rush to the scene and Fire Brigades Union officials said they reached it quicker than they would have if they had not been on strike because they had been in the local station rather than at home, although a Green Goddess arrived at the house first.

The Green Goddess crew brought Violet Davies, 72, out of her council home shortly after 7pm and she was taken to hospital, but she died later. She was in bed when the fire started.

Neighbours spoke of their dismay over her death but praised the Green Goddess crew for their bravery and speed in pulling Mrs Davies out.

The military fire control team said they were alerted to the fire at Falcon Court, Maesyrhandir, Newtown, at 7.04pm.

It took the Green Goddess crew based at Newtown police station, a mile from the estate, nine minutes to get to the scene.

A retained fire crew, believed to be from nearby Montgomery, arrived shortly before 7.30pm.

The military spokesman said ``RAF personnel forced their way into the smoke-filled house and rescued an elderly lady shortly after 7.30pm. She was taken to Welshpool's Victoria Memorial Hospital.''

A police officer at the scene said Mrs Davies had just returned home after a spell in hospital. She was partially deaf and blind.

Neighbour Betty Reynolds said, ``The Green Goddess crew were here very quickly and they acted bravely in getting Violet out of her smoke-filled house.

``It is a shame this tragedy had to happen on the first night of the fire strike but I'm sure the professional full-time firefighters could not have done any better.''

Another neighbour, Nora Webster, said, ``The Green Goddess crew did their best and got here very quickly..''

Falcon Court resident Brian Jones said, ``The Green Goddess crew seemed to react very quickly to the 999 call and they took away a piece of furniture with them. I couldn't see what it was but I think that may be the answer to the fire.'' The Fire Brigades Union executive council member for Wales, Mike Smith, said, ``Our sincerest condolences to the family, but the fact that we were on strike would have made little difference. The times we were given for the response to this fire were quicker than if they were not on strike.

``The station is not manned 24 hours a day. It's a day-crew station and at night-time they are called from their homes, but because they were striking they were on picket duty at the time.

``Our striking members left the picket line as soon as they heard someone's life was in danger and took a pump and offered assistance.''

A spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott said, ``We are very upset to hear of the incident. Our thoughts are with the relatives of the family.''

Mr Davies's death came one hour after 1,500 firefighters across Wales left their stations and were replaced by 850 military crew with 40 Green Goddesses and 20 RAF rescue crews.

Across the Welsh fire brigade areas by 11pm last night there were seven emergency calls in South Wales, three in Mid and West Wales and one in North Wales, and four hoax calls.

Soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Wales and the Welsh Guards, brought from Germany to man Green Goddesses, were among the first to see action in and around Birmingham.

In North Wales the control room began patching calls through to Green Goddesses half an hour before the strike started.

The first Green Goddess call in the UK came at 5.53pm to attend a market-stall fire at Prestatyn. One Green Goddess was deployed and the fire was under control by 6.30pm. The next was to a car fire in Merthyr Tydfil at 5.56pm.

At 6.17pm a family was advised to evacuate its Maesteg home after a double car fire spread. One Green Goddess was called to the area to extinguish the two cars and a nearby wooden lamp post. No one was injured in the blaze.

Green Goddess crews were also called to a van fire in Gabalfa, Cardiff, at 7.43pm, another van fire at 8.03pm in Penrhiwceiber, a lorry on fire at Pentwyn, Cardiff, at 8.55pm, and a car fire at Newport at 10.16pm.

The North Wales control room dealt with four hoax calls. One mobile call at 5.35pm has been traced and the line cut off.

Deputy Chief Constable Bill Brereton said, ``This stupidity will not be tolerated.''

A spokesman said the other three calls came from children in kiosks.

CAPTION(S):

EARLY CALL: A Green Goddess and a regular fire engine attend a car fire in Merthyr at the start of the strike by firefighters last night
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUW
Date:Nov 14, 2002
Words:826
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