COLUMN: Val Shawcross

News Desk (18 February, 2016)

Will Boris listen to reason on fire engines?

6803Val Shawcross

By the time you read this, my colleagues on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) will have opposed Mayor Boris Johnson’s plans to permanently remove thirteen fire engines from service across London – including one from Old Kent Road fire station in Southwark.

These engines have been out of service for the past two years ostensibly to provide contingency cover in the event industrial action etc. However, the current proposals would mean that Old Kent Road, along with twelve other fire stations, would permanently lose their second fire engine. Old Kent Road fire station was completely refurbished last year, so it seems a little odd that a new state-of-the-art facility may now be left to house just one fire engine.

The Fire Brigade has targets of six minutes for the arrival of the first fire engine and eight minutes for the second at an incident. As all the fire stations involved have (or at least did have) two fire engines, it is the arrival time of the second fire engine at an incident which has been most impacted. This is important as the fire brigade state that a fire can quadruple in intensity in two minutes and the crew from the first fire engine cannot enter a building until they have back up from a second crew.

In 2014, the fire brigade saw significant cuts with the closure of ten fire stations, the cutting of fourteen fire engines and the loss of over 500 firefighters when the Mayor forced through the Fifth London Safety Plan. These cuts led to the closure of Southwark Fire Station. Since this closure there has been an increase in attendance times in Southwark for both the arrival of the first and second engines – with the arrival of the second engine now taking, on average, a minute longer. Nine wards in the borough are currently not meeting the six minute target time for the arrival of the first engine. Further cuts are hardly likely to improve this.

Labour on LFEPA, have proposed reducing a small number of less critical firefighting equipment instead, allowing the thirteen fire engines to return to service. This has been overwhelmingly supported by the public in a recent consultation. By the time Southwark News goes to press, we will know if the Mayor has heeded public opinion and common sense, and the nature of his legacy to London’s Fire Service.