Listeners to yesterday’s BBC Radio 4 Today Programme may have heard the leader of Britain’s fire-fighters, Matt Wrack, say that the Government’s proposed cuts to London’s fire service will put public safety at risk. He is absolutely right. With seventeen stations and crews facing the axe across the capital, I fear that these proposals from Boris Johnson may yet cost lives.
I am particularly concerned about plans to close Bow and Whitechapel fire stations. Tower Hamlets needs greater provision from the Fire Authority, not less. During 2011/12 we had 1,523 fires. That is more than any other borough. Some 308 of these fires took place within the home. Tower Hamlets also had the fourth highest number of “special service” incidents – road accidents, people stuck in lifts and floods etc – during the same year.
Claims that response times will not be adversely affected in Tower Hamlets by these proposed cuts are simply not credible. We all know how congested traffic in the borough can be. Smoke inhalation kills in minutes and even a minor delay in response times will costs lives. Not only that, central to any effective fire response is not just the speed of response, it is also the weight of response: some fires need many fire engines and crews to get under control. The loss of four fire engines will put the borough at greater risk in the advent of big fires.
The cuts will impact in other ways too. Our fire stations do more than react to fires and accidents; they are also proactive in trying to prevent them. Local fire crews were largely responsible for the 3,667 home fire safety visits last year, which include fitting smoke alarms mostly to the homes of vulnerable people.
I have written to Boris Johnson and Fire Authority Chair James Cleverly expressing my opposition to these cuts. I have also met with the Paul Embery (photo below) , the Regional Secretary of the Fire Brigade Union to discuss what we can do as an Authority working with the union. We have just a few months to stop these proposals and we need to get campaigning. The fight is on to save our stations…
You can sign the FBU online petition here.