Firefighters commemorated at 50th anniversary of Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy

Firefighters have joined families of the victims of the Dudgeon’s Wharf disaster to mark the 50th anniversary of the tragedy.

Five firefighters and a construction worker lost their lives when an oil tank exploded at the site on the Isle of Dogs on 17 July 1969.

Dudgeon’s Wharf remains the greatest loss of life of London Fire Brigade staff since the Second World War. Firefighters Michael Gamble and Alfred Smee from Millwall Fire Station, John Appleby and Terence Breen from Brunswick Road Fire Station and Trevor Carvosso from Cannon Street Fire Station were all killed in the explosion as well as construction worker Richard Adams.

As a result of the incident, there were changes to legislation and a strict ‘Code of Practice’ now controls the removal of tanks which have contained flammable substances.

The incident also influenced the development of the Hazchem Code in the 1970s, meaning all known chemicals were allocated an identification code to help firefighters when dealing with chemical fires or spillages. It also provided information about what personal protection they needed.

At a dedication service held at the site earlier today (Wednesday 17 July), the Fire Brigades’ Union unveiled a red plaque in memory of the firefighters.

The service was attended by family members of some of the victims, London Fire Brigade staff and the Bishop of London The Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dame Sarah Mullally DBE.

Fireman Terrance Breen’s son Terry, who was five when his father was killed, gave a short reading at the memorial service.

Speaking about his father, the 55-year-old said: “Dad had been in the Brigade 12 years when  he was killed and my mum was left with me and my two brothers. It affected us all in different ways.

“He was a fantastic family man and we are all incredibly proud – you can’t not be proud of someone that has served in the Brigade.

“I’m always thankful we are able to mark the anniversary. It’s so important not to forget and to always honour their memory and we were very proud to be part of the service.”

The Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner Andy Roe said: “As a Brigade, it is so important that we take the time to remember lives lost and acts of bravery by firefighters.

“This incident and the tragic deaths it caused led to significant changes to the way we deal with chemical incidents to ensure the safety of firefighters.

“It is always devastating when it takes a tragedy for changes to be implemented and we look at all incidents we attend to make improvements to firefighter and public safety.

“As well as adapting and making changes to our own training, policies and equipment, we also lobby for changes to legislation.

“The changes implemented following this incident have been used worldwide undoubtedly helping to protect firefighters all over the globe meaning that the loss of life on that terrible day has not been in vain.”

The Bishop of London said: “It was a privilege to join together with the relatives of the disaster’s victims and lead them in prayer to honour all those who lost their lives that terrible day.

“Fifty years on, it is important that we continue to pay tribute to their work, remember their sacrifice and celebrate their legacy.” 

Deputy Mayor for Fire and Resilience, Fiona Twycross, said: “We will never forget those who lost their lives in the Dudgeon’s Wharf tragedy 50 years ago.

“Today’s anniversary is a reminder of the huge bravery and courage shown each and every day by our firefighters, as they put themselves in danger to keep Londoners safe.”