Warning that service cuts are “playing with fire”

London Fire Brigade

Pic: London Fire Brigade

Politicians faced the fear and concerns of people living in Tower Hamlets about the impact of cuts to local fire services in a Borough that the Fire Brigades Union says has more fires than any other area of London.

The Greater London Authority was warned “stripping away so much of the fire cover is playing with fire. People in Tower Hamlets will be at much greater risk.”

Bow fire station is to close along with a reduction in fire engines at Whitechapel. The Borough is said to have more fire incidents because of the density of its population and high levels of social deprivation.

East London Lines reports from the latest consultation meeting organised by the London Fire Brigade at Queen Mary University of London in Mile End Tuesday May 7.

Across London the proposals seek to close 12 stations, lose 18 fire engines and cut 520 firefighter posts. The 520 posts cut will be voluntary redundancies and the LFB made clear that they were not forcing anyone out of work.

These cuts aim to save £29 million over the space of 2 years.

The public were invited to speak to and hear from a panel, made up of the Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, Ron Dobson, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Dominic Ellis, and Fiona Twycross and James Cleverly, both members of the Greater London Authority.

They fielded questions from local people and firefighters themselves along with the Fire Brigades Union opposed to the cuts.

One local resident said: “You’re taking away a busy station in the middle of a highly populated area. I’m concerned for my safety and the safety of my neighbours.”

Coincidentally in the last fortnight the London Fire Brigade has responded to a number of serious fires in East London Lines boroughs; one of them fatal.

On May 10 firefighters led 11 people to safety in the early hours after a fire broke out in a building on New Road in Whitechapel, E1. Fire crews were called to the blaze at 4.55 am.

Watch Manager Colin Johnson from Dowgate Fire Station was at the scene and said: “When we arrived there were six men on a first floor flat roof, as well as family with two young children, including a four month old baby, stuck in a flat on the second floor and a woman on a balcony on the third floor.”

On May 4 an elderly woman died in a fire that severely damaged around half of a flat on Knightland Road in Upper Clapton, Hackney. There were four fire engines and 21 firefighters and officers at the scene with fire engines from Stoke Newington and Homerton fire stations. The cause of the fire is under investigation by the LFB and Met Police.

Bow Fire Station in Parnell Road, Tower Hamlets facing the axe in proposed cuts. Pic: Google

Bow Fire Station in Parnell Road, Tower Hamlets facing the axe in proposed cuts. Pic: Google

At the consultation meeting in Mile End, the proposed cuts, called for by London mayor Boris Johnson in his efforts to cut council tax by 10 percent, were outlined by Commissioner Dobson. He explained that at present fires were at their lowest level since 1965, and there had been a reduction in unnecessary call-outs.

He said there should be renewed focus on fire safety information for businesses and more lobbying for sprinklers to become a requirement of building codes in order to reduce the number of fires and fire call-outs.

One of the main points of discussion, when the floor was opened up to questions, was the future of the Tower Hamlets-based fire station in Bow.

This subject provoked impassioned views and statements from local people and firefighters past and present. Members of the local branch of the Fire Brigades Union made audible their views on the risk of losing employment.

Speakers complained that the proposed closure of Bow fire station and the loss of a fire engine from Whitechapel fire station could put local lives in danger.

At one point during the meeting Commissioner Dobson was accused of concealing the full impact that the closures would have in Bow.

This provoked Bow West Councillor Joshua Peck to search for relevant documents on his phone, which he stated were “buried” in the website.

Councillor Peck notified the panel that if the cuts were to go ahead, the average first response time (the time within which the first fire engine will arrive) will rise from 4.41 to 6.39 minutes in Bow West, and in Bow East from 4.9 to 7.20 minutes.

The attendees were told during the meeting that the intensity of a domestic fire quadruples in two minutes and Councillor Peck emphasized that this reduction in response time: “is the difference between life and death.”

Local Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali and Bow East Councillor Marc Francis were also aware of the possible dangers to their constituents, with Councillor Francis inviting the Commissioner to “go and speak to Bow residents” in order to understand their circumstances.

The consultation is still ongoing, but local people are being encouraged to fill in response forms and submit them before the consultation ends on 17 June.

East London Lines sound report on this story by Julie Thing filed Wednesday May 8:

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