London Fire Brigade

LFB 150 - Four years since Dagenham recycle centre fire

12 August 2016

As we celebrate our 150th anniversary we're looking back at some of the most significant and some of the more unusual incidents that have taken place since we were formed in 1866.

As the London Olympics was drawing to a close, 40 fire engines and more than 200 firefighters were at the scene of one of the capital's biggest fires for several years.

On 12 August 2012, just eight miles away from the Olympic Park, a recycling centre in Dagenham was completely alight and smoke from the fire could be seen from across the capital.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson said at the time: "We've not seen a fire of this size in London for several years and it was certainly a dramatic end to the Olympics for the London Fire Brigade."

On duty that day was Director of Safety and Assurance Dany Cotton.

Dany was an Assistant Commissioner in 2012 and when she received the call it was a 10-pump fire; by the time Dany reached the site, it had become a 20-pump.

Extremely hazardous substances

"Everything that could go wrong, did go wrong that day," Dany said. 

"It was the Olympics closing ceremony and because of the fire's proximity to it, it was vital there was no smoke going towards it – the closing ceremony being just hours away at that point."

To add to the increasing intensity of the fire, the recycling centre was located next to a COMAH – control of major accident hazards – site. These are locations that contain extremely hazardous substances.

"I had to make sure the fire was contained and did not affect a potentially dangerous site," said Dany.

As well as this, the recycling centre processed bales of waste, which were designed to burn for longer.

Dany added: "The recycling plant had been stockpiling these so they could sell them when the price of bales went up."

Although no cylinders were reported on-site, a loud explosion meant all firefighters had to be withdrawn and a roll-call taken.

"I was then told 'Guvnor, there’s a boat wanting to dock. The boat is carrying Toluene'," said Dany.

"Toluene is a highly flammable liquid. It couldn’t come anywhere near the fire! So we had to get the boat to dock somewhere else.

"Then there was the bus garage depot, which was next to the recycling site. They needed to get their buses out in order to take people to the Olympic Park.

"However, our hoses were blocking their way and when we eventually let them get their buses out, they drove over a hose and it burst, reducing the water pressure to the entire site."

'Nobody has done that since 1973'

The Brigade was first called at 1:15pm and the incident was declared under control by 5:30pm.

The single-storey building, measuring 330ft by 165ft, suffered extensive damage from the blaze but there were no injuries and the Olympic venues were not affected.

"I had been on the site for ten stressful hours when I increased the number of pumps to 40.

"I was told nobody does that – or hasn’t done that since 1973!" said Dany.