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I always felt like I could help people.

Roger ‘Dinger’ Bell. Photo by Seda Sokmen.

 

Roger ‘Dinger’ Bell began his time as a fireman at the Clerkenwell Fire Station back in 1974.

His mother had worked as a nurse, which he says influenced his outlook on life.

 ‘I just didn’t like seeing people suffering, I always felt like I could help people’

As one of Londons oldest fire stations, Clerkenwell still had the horse stables attached, and he remembers stories of their uncanny ability to navigate directly to the fires they were attending.

‘They could smell where the fire was and they went there…they were quite clever’ 

During his time at the station, he trained as a boat fireman and moved into the position of Leading Hand in 1978.

In 1987 he was to face one of the biggest challenges of his career.

The King’s Cross Fire

King’s Cross Fire outside the station. CC-BY-SA

 

On 18 November 1987, a fire broke out under one of the escalators at King’s Cross Station. Roger, along with the Clerkenwell crew found himself in attendance. Stationed at the bottom of the escalator – cut off from the rest of his team – he set about directing the trains that were coming through the station, and calming the nerves of the Police Officer who had ended up down there with him.

With limited access to equipment and communication from the team at the top of the escalator, Roger made several attempts to fight the fire from below.

Walking out via one of the tunnels, he was re-united with his crew who had come looking for his body. It was only then that he discovered the scale of the tragedy and heard about the loss of one of his fellow officers.

Firemen in attendance at the King’s Cross Fire. Photos reproduced courtesy of London Fire Brigade

 

The search for answers through the subsequent enquiry left Roger with unanswered questions of his own.

‘We failed at King’s Cross. People say, ‘What’s the best fire you’ve been to?’…..It’s not the biggest fire, it’s when we’ve gone into somewhere and put it out. That’s the best fire’.

Attending the 30 year anniversary of the fire in 2017, Roger found time to remember Station Officer Colin Townsley who lost his life in the fire.

‘The only thing I was able to do was go and stand at the top of the stairs with Colin Townsley’

Memorial at King’s Cross Station. Photo by Michael Hall