Camden man jumped to death 'because of the length of time it took fire brigade to arrive', neighbour says
PUBLISHED: 14:43 29 October 2015 | UPDATED: 11:15 02 November 2015
A neighbour of a man who apparently leapt to his death to escape a fire says he is "almost positive" the man would have survived had it not been for the delayed response time.
Pat Bell lived next door to the victim, who he knew as Mr Yip, for eight years on the third floor of Ashton Court in Camden Road.
He said: “It’s just really sad, and it’s a needless tragedy, because I don’t think it was even a big fire.
“It was just the length of time it took to get there, in my opinion, pure and simple, that’s what’s killed him.”
He described how the tragedy unfolded at the sheltered accommodation on Monday morning, whilst all of the local fire crew were battling a major blaze on Finchley Road.
“At about twenty to eleven, I saw a bit of smoke coming out of his flat, and the fire alarms were going off, so I went downstairs. I didn’t think much of it because I didn’t see flames.
“Normally, if the smoke alarms go off, it goes straight through to Kentish Town fire station, so they’re there usually in about four, five minutes, max. But none came. So I phoned the fire brigade myself, and another person did as well”
Mr Bell said that he went back upstairs to his flat, still not realising the severity of the situation.
“After I’d been downstairs for about five minutes, I went back upstairs, and there was thick, black smoke. It was much worse than when I’d come downstairs. The smoke was so bad, I couldn’t get to my neighbour’s flat, so I ran into my flat, got a wet towel and put it across my door to stop the smoke coming in. I had to hang out of the window to wait for the fire brigade to come. It seemed like absolutely ages before they came.”
The London Fire Brigade’s target response time is six minutes, but it took 13 minutes and 20 seconds for a fire engine to arrive from Soho, by which time Mr Yip had jumped from the window in an apparent desperate attempt to escape.
Mr Bell said: “If there had been some cover of the Kentish Town station, the poor guy would have been saved.
“I’m almost positive of that, because the smoke wasn’t that bad at first. The Kentish Town fire people know the layout of the place as well, whereas the ones that came wouldn’t have a clue.”
Mr Bell had spoken to Mr Yip shortly before seeing the smoke, and said he seemed “agitated” about something, but he wasn’t completely certain if he was trapped in his flat because the door was open.
He said: “I couldn’t get to his flat because there was just too much smoke.
“I couldn’t see anything. It was terrifying, to be honest. If he couldn’t get to his door, there was only one way for him to go, and that was through the window. His front door was open, and that was why there was so much smoke in the hallway.”
Mr Bell said he did not witness his neighbour jump, but saw his body in the back garden after being led downstairs by fire crew.
He said: “They were trying to resuscitate him in the back garden, but there was nothing they could do.”
Mr Bell said of Mr Yip: “He was a nice man, kept himself to himself.
“We always said hello and that. He couldn’t really speak any English, which is why we didn’t say anything more.
“He was in China a couple of months ago to visit his family, I think.”
The Fire Brigades Union has said that Mayor Boris Johnson has “serious questions to answer” over Mr Yip’s death after they repeatedly warned that a tragedy of this kind would occur after severe cuts to funding of the fire service in London.
When Belsize Park fire station closed last year, firefighters and politicians warned that average response time for fires in Camden would rise more dramatically than anywhere else in the capital.
With prophetic accuracy,former Belsize Park councillor Tom Simon warned in 2013: “Who wants to be on the receiving end when Kentish Town and West Hampstead are busy? That’s what’s really worrying.”