RAF fly to rescue in first house 'fire'

RAF firefighters pulled a man from his Ipswich home as it filled with smoke in the early hours of this morning. It was the only action of an otherwise quiet day for the thin Green line as it entered the second day of its eight-day stretch as Ipswich's firefighting force.

RAF firefighters pulled a man from his Ipswich home as it filled with smoke in the early hours of this morning.

It was the only action of an otherwise quiet day for the thin Green line as it entered the second day of its eight-day stretch as Ipswich's firefighting force.

There was no fire, however. The smoke was caused by a pan of soup burning on the stove.

An MOD spokesman said that the man, who was not identified, had a lucky escape after falling asleep while the soup heated.

He said two Green Goddesses and an RAF breathing apparatus vehicle raced to Austin Street at 3.10am after being alerted by the man's brother that smoke was coming from a window.

When they arrived, the RAF men discovered the man had been out on the town and decided to prepare a late night snack before dozing off.

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He was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene by paramedics and was taken to Ipswich Hospital for treatment.

The Green Goddesses took eight minutes to reach Austin Street from their base in Yarmouth Road and the job was completed in a matter of minutes.

Elsewhere in the country, a breathing apparatus team were involved in a fire which claimed the first house fire victim to die in a house fire since the firefighters' eight-day strike began, military officials today confirmed.

The 27-year-old man, who has not been named, was pulled from the blaze in Victoria Street, Maidstone, Kent, after an emergency call at 2.34am.

The fire, which was focused on an upstairs bedroom, forced back paramedics and police officers who attempted a rescue effort as the first on the scene.

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."

Striking firefighters also attended after crossing the picket line and were later joined by two Green Goddesses, but by the time man arrived at Maidstone Hospital, he was pronounced dead.

The spokesman added: "The team that went in are professionals. They are from the Royal Navy and they just went in and did the job they were trained to do.

"It's just a tragedy that it ended up with someone losing their life.''

His death was the first to result from a house fire. Yesterday, military personnel were called to the scenes of several serious road accidents, which claimed the lives of three people.

Yesterday's walkout at 9am followed eleventh-hour talks lasting throughout the night, which at one point were on the verge of achieving a dramatic pay deal and averting the eight-day strike.

But the Government intervened to halt the agreement, prompting furious Fire Brigades Union officials to accuse ministers of running a "dictatorship'' and wrecking the peace package.

As the Prime Minister returned from a Nato conference in Prague his spokesman condemned the union for trying to "hold a gun to the Government's head'' and also scorned the employers for being talked into accepting "uncosted, half-baked'' proposals amounting to a blank cheque that would cost taxpayers millions of pounds.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, who is handling the dispute for the Government, came under heavy fire but denied he had fallen asleep at his post.

Phoned in the early hours, he had refused to sanction the agreement, saying he needed time to consider the financial implications. The strike began less than three hours later.

"I was dealing with aspects of this deal from 2.30am - it is not true that I was not available,'' Mr Prescott told BBC Radio 4's PM programme.

Looking tired after 24 hours without sleep, Mr Gilchrist said as he left a central London hotel that his union's executive had actually agreed to suspend the strike after a new pay deal was tabled by employers giving firefighters a pay rise of 16% achievable over the next year.

Employers representatives accused the Mr Prescott of putting innocent people's lives at risk by "scuppering'' the proposed deal.

Ministers hit back in a succession of briefings and interviews, with Downing Street accusing the union and the employers of trying to "bounce'' the Government into accepting a deal.

The Government has said that any above-inflation pay rise must be tied to sweeping changes to firefighters' working practices which, they say, have remained unchanged for 25 years or more.

As uncertainty reigned over the future of the pay talks, there was welcome news as the FBU agreed with the Government to provide emergency cover to deal with large-scale terrorist or other civil contingency incidents.

The draft agreement outlined measures to bring in a 4% pay rise from November 7. Following completion of negotiations another 3.5% would be paid from April 1 next year. Following completion of further negotiations under stage two of the agreement, another 3.5% would be paid from November 7 next year.

Qualified firefighters would be guaranteed a basic pay of £25,000 by next November. The total increase on the pay bill was 16%.

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