In the early hours of May 12, 1996, firefighter John Ogden was on a team responding to a 999 call. He was a member of White Watch, based in Gorton, Manchester city centre.
His work could not have more in the forefront. The number of participants at the city center station was exceptional. In the previous year, 3,360 incidents with 8,000 mobilizations had been registered.
A call at 5:02am was the ninth of the shift, the previous one being a major fire at a residence in Rusholme. John and his colleagues climbed into a new Volvo Saxon appliance with registration N.
They were driving towards Rushford Avenue in Levenshulme, where someone had deliberately set a car on fire. Along the way they came to the junction of Slade Lane and the A6 Stockport Road.
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On the way, John helped the driver with directions and was pulling up his pants, standing in a crouched position. THE VEHICLE WAS TRAVELING BETWEEN 23 AND 30 MPH. Without warning, the cab door opened and John fell out.
Audenshaw’s loving 40-year-old father fractured his skull. His crew assisted him at the scene and he was taken to Manchester Royal Infirmary. He died on May 15.
Now, 26 years later, his sacrifice has been remembered with the installation of a Firefighters Union Red Plaque on the wall of a store near where he was injured. Saturday’s unveiling was followed by a ceremony at Gorton Monastery attended by his family and his former colleagues.
Matthew Fryer, brigade organiser, Greater Manchester Fire Brigade Union, said: “John Ogden was a much loved colleague and friend. His passing is remembered and known amongst our Manchester fire community, but this plaque will ensure the local community doesn’t forget what he gave.
“Manchester firefighters have a close relationship with the community and we hope this will further help the people of Manchester understand the sacrifices firefighters make and, in particular, the story of John Ogden.”
After the tragedy, his widow, Janet, said his death could have been prevented if safety recommendations made a year earlier had been implemented. It emerged that there had been a similar incident in April 1995, 13 months earlier, in Farnworth, where a firefighter suffered bruises after falling from an apparatus.
After the Farnworth incident, the investigating officer made suggestions to improve security on all aircraft. Alternative locks included should be considered or existing locks modified to ensure they cannot remain in the open position when the door is closed.
A memo from Altrincham Fire Station staff on April 2, 1996, six weeks before John’s death, to a division commander listed a number of points/defects on a Volvo Saxon machine with number N. Among their concerns was the fact that there were no internal handles on the doors of the passenger cabins.
An investigation into John’s death found that the locking mechanism of the then-new fire engine appeared to have locked, but had not. An FBU report into the tragedy said that after tests were carried out by the Chorley Forensic Science Laboratory, failure of the locking mechanism was identified as a “probability” of the cause of the crash.
The FBU investigation noted “that in the appliance in question and in all Volvo appliances, there is no substantial handle on the inner face of the door.”
The Red Badge scheme is run by the Firefighters Union and aims to recognize firefighters who have died in the line of duty. Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the Fire Brigade Union, said: “Every day firefighters go to work and can risk everything to help others. John was no different, and it is vital that we remember him. This plaque will be prominent in the local community and will ensure that John Ogden and all of the firefighters who gave their lives in the line of duty are never forgotten. It is only through the funds raised by the Firefighters 100 lottery that the Red Plaque scheme is able to commemorate these firefighters, with 32 plaques revealed across the UK so far.”
The plaque is on the wall of an optician’s shop at the junction of Slade Lane and Stockport Road. In 1996, the day after John’s death, Division Commander Arthur Bell praised him as the 6-foot-3 “gentle giant” who was devoted to his family and his work. Bell said: “Men like John Ogden are the backbone of the service. He has been on the front lines at one of our busiest stations for 21 years.”