London fire service cuts and longer response times will cost lives

On the same day that Parliament was debating the Conservative government’s proposal to launch air strikes in Syria, across the Thames in City Hall, the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) were discussing cutting the London Fire Brigade budget by £6.4 million.

On the 2nd December 2015, around 250 people – over half of which were fire-fighters – turned out to protest at the cuts being imposed by Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson. Cuts that will endanger lives because of increased response times. How do you permanently remove 13 fire engines as proposed by London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson without affecting response times?

The proposed cuts come on top of last years reductions in the frontline of London Fire Brigade that saw10 stations closed and 14 fire engines taken out of service. Protesters outside City Hall listened to a number of speakers before the LFEPA meeting got underway.

George Binette, from Camden Unison, spoke about the recent fire in Camden Road where an elderly man died. Camden’s fire engines had been called to a huge blaze in the Finchley Road, which meant fire engines from further afield were called to the Camden Road fire. George said “the first engine arrived after 13.2 minutes, over twice the target time.”

When George Galloway spoke he said it “it was obscene that fire-fighters have to take to the streets to defend services, at the same time that Britain is taken into another war”.

Laurie Heselden, SERTUC Campaigns Officer, spoke of the need to organise against the cuts to London’s fire service, and said “London is a world class city that deserves world class services”.

Andrew Dismore, Labour London Assembly Member on the LFEPA, told the protestors that he would be moving an amendment that doesn’t involve cuts and will see the return of 13 fire engines. Fiona Twycross, also an Assembly Member and on the LFEPA, congratulated everyone for turning out to defend the London fire service and welcomed the recent decision of the FBU to affiliate to the Labour Party.

Ian Leahair, London Region FBU Executive Council member, spoke of the overwhelming opposition (94%) of Londoners to cuts in the fire service and said “if the cuts go-ahead fire-fighters will not be able to cope”.

Since August 2013 twenty-seven fire engines have been taken out of service. Fourteen of them permanently removed from service in January 2014. This leaves thirteen fire engines temporarily taken out of service. It was the future of these engines that would be at the heart of the discussion at the LFEPA meeting.

With the speeches over, a large number of the protestors entered City Hall to sit in the public area of the assembly room to listen to the LFEPA meeting.

There were two options being discussed that would permanently take out of service 10 or 13 engines, along with the amendment from Andrew Dismore that sought to put the13 fire engines back in service. Representatives from the FBU stated their case and urged the LFEPA to support the option that would incorporate the Andrew Dismore amendment as it protected front line services. The London Fire Commissioner had reported that response times had increased since the engines had been taken out of service, but said they still remained within their target times of 6 minutes for the first appliance and 8 minutes for the second.

The attitude of several of the Tory members of the LFEPA was evidently very bad. They had a sneering, contemptuous attitude and were impolite in their responses. Nevertheless, the amendment from Andrew Dismore and the Labour Group to reinstate the 13 fire engines was carried, and will now appear as ‘Option A’ in the public consultation that started on the 07 December 2015 and ends on 31 January 2016. Option B proposes to permanently remove the 13 fire engines and reinvest some of the savings into increasing the staff available to crew fire rescue units.

Everyone needs to get behind Option A and stop the run-down of the London Fire Brigade. Increased response times will cost lives as in the Camden fire on the 26 October 2015. Follow his link to the London Fire Brigade website where you can take part in the consultation

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