Thursday, 13 December 2018

Council refuses to pay bill for blaze on roundabout

HENLEY Town Council is refusing to pay a £750 bill for the cost of extinguishing a fire caused by one

HENLEY Town Council is refusing to pay a £750 bill for the cost of extinguishing a fire caused by one of its staff.

Parks assistant Alex Bell accidentally started the fire on the roundabout near the Tesco store in Reading Road, Henley, in July while using a butane weedkiller on the dry grass.

The blaze was put out by a trained firefighter who works for helicopter experience company Adventure 001 and was passing the roundabout when he spotted the flames.

But the council has refused to refund the company its costs, saying it didn’t have to help out.

Firefighter Benjamin Hawes, who was driving his fire truck from Denham aerodrome to a helipad near the Mapledurham Estate, said he had to act when he came across the fire.

He said: “There was lots of smoke ahead of me. As I got closer, I could see flames and there was a guy in the middle of the road looking very shaken and upset.

“Because of the job we do, I couldn’t just drive off and leave it because as far as I was concerned it was a danger or hazard. I just sprang into action. The flames were quite high and in some places two or three feet high. I could see that they were crawling across the dry grass and making their way towards the decorative boat.”

Mr Hawes blocked off the roundabout with his vehicle and spent three or four minutes putting out the flames using the specialist aircraft extinguishers from his truck.

He said Mr Bell also grabbed an extinguisher and helped.

After the fire was out, he tried to speak to the park assistant but found it hard to get information from Mr Bell as he was in shock and almost in tears.

Mr Hawes said: “I asked him what had happened and how had it got out of hand and it turned out that he was using a butane gas canister to burn weeds.

“It was during that hot period when everything was absolutely bone dry — the grass was brown. It wasn’t a very clever thing to be doing.”

Mr Hawes was given a telephone number for council parks manager Gareth Bartle, whom he called when he arrived in Mapledurham.

He told Mr Bartle that he would like to invoice him because he had used a lot of specialist firefighting equipment.

Mr Hawes said: “Mr Bartle said that was fine but to be a bit discreet and then he would get it passed. He said to say something general ‘like a call-out’. I didn’t want to get anyone into trouble so I said that was fine and as far as I was concerned that was the end of it.”

Adventure 001 sent the council a £750 invoice for the cost of having to provide a replacement fire truck, replacing the foam, powder and carbon dioxide extinguishers and paying for the environmental disposal of the empty containers.

Managing director Neil McLaren said: “It was very lucky we were passing and put the fire out.”

However, Henley town clerk Mike Kennedy responded: “Given that the town council did not request your services, I am unable to authorise your invoice for payment.”

He also said it should only have been necessary to use water to put out the flames.

Mr McLaren, who was following the fire truck on the day of the incident, said: “There was a big fire with a lot of black smoke and there was a guy in the middle of the road in an absolute panic — there is no way we could have just driven past it.

“There could easily have been a traffic accident and the Henley Standard boat would certainly have gone up in flames.

“We were just doing our job but the council is now doing anything it can to prevent it from paying a penny towards the very expensive equipment. We almost wish we’d never bothered.

“I think the town clerk has got to take responsibility for one of his personnel doing something very foolish. We have done the right thing in an emergency.

“What is frustrating is that the fire could have been completely avoided by not using a burner. It was a foolish thing to have done. We helped them out, we did the right thing, and are being criticised for it.”

Mr Kennedy told the Henley Standard: “I do not conduct business with third parties through the newspaper.”

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