Response to Draft Fifth London Safety Plan
While the Draft Fifth London Safety Plan covers a range of issues I will limit my remarks to the proposals to close 12 stations and remove 18 engines across London, resulting in the reduction of 530 fire fighters.
We hope never to have to use any of our emergency services – but we rely on the fact that they will be there should we have need them. Last year the fire brigade was called out to 2,151 incidents in Lewisham – 874 of those were fires and 1277 were for special services (road traffic collisions etc.)
The draft plan earmarks two stations in Lewisham for closure; Downham in the Lewisham East constituency and New Cross, which is in my constituency, Lewisham Deptford.
There are currently 212 fire officers in Lewisham Borough and the loss of 64 officers from Downham and New Cross is a 30% reduction of staff based in the borough. Overall the plan proposes the loss of 520 officers – the 64 in Lewisham represents 12.3% of the proposed losses. The impact on Lewisham is disproportionate both as a whole across London and within Lewisham itself.
Our Fire Officers provide a great service in our community – not just through responding to emergency calls, but also in assisting people with fire prevention and carrying out safety inspections. In 2011/12 over 400 fire safety inspections were carried out in Lewisham and over 60 primary school visits were carried out as well as over 2,500 home fire safety visits. I am extremely concerned that such a large reduction in officer numbers in the borough would have an impact on these other services.
If Downham and New Cross fire stations were to close the time that the first appliance would reach an area would increase, on average, by 31 seconds. However this is a borough wide average, different areas of Lewisham would see different average response times. The average response time for Telegraph Hill Ward (New Cross fire station is located in Telegraph Hill ward) would increase from 5.15 to 7.24 minutes – an increase of 2.09 minutes. Bearing in mind that a domestic fire can quadruple in its intensity in just 2 minutes this kind of increase in average time is incredibly worrying.
London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore has made the point that by comparing October to December 2009 with the same period in 2010 (during the dispute) ‘serious’ dwelling fires increased from 24% to 34% and there were correspondingly fewer ‘slight’ fires. Removing appliances is a false economy if delays and increases in arrival times lead to ‘serious’ rather than ‘slight’ fires.
There are several tower blocks in my constituency and in recent years the fire brigade has been called out to serious fires in blocks. I am particularly concerned about, what Andrew Dismore refers to as, ‘vertical equity’. I understand that the response time to fires is based on the time from when a station is informed about an incident from the despatch (not the time the initial 999 call is placed) until a fire officer presses a button to say that the engine has reached the scene (not the time that they start tackling a blaze). I understand that, especially for fires several floors up, time needs to be spent on the ground, assessing the situation, however this can lead to even longer actual response times than recorded response times and in a high rise this could be especially dangerous.
While I have focused on the impact on Lewisham and in particular my constituency the London Fire Service is not contained by borough. In the last six months 51.2% of the incidents that New Cross fire station responded to were in Southwark, while incidents in Lewisham were responded to by fire stations in Southwark, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Lambeth and Westminster; in total 37 incidents in the borough were responded to by stations not in the borough. The closure of New Cross will not just affect my constituents and other Lewisham residents; it will have a significant impact on Southwark and other residents. Likewise the closure of Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich in particular as well as the removal of the second fire engine in Peckham will impact on the coverage, provision and response in Lewisham.
Lewisham Council have made the point that in April 2010 there was a fire a Monson School, which is in my constituency. Ten fire engines and around 50 fire fighters attended the blaze (thankfully not during school hours). The stations which responded (which didn’t include New Cross) were from Lewisham, Greenwich, Peckham, Forest Hill, Brixton, Southwark, Old Kent Road and Deptford – some of these are also part of the planned closures or set to lose an appliance. I am deeply concerned about the services ability to attend large fires and still attend ‘normal’ incidents should these proposals go forward.
I am also extremely concerned about the fire service’s ability to respond to major incidents if the volume of closures goes ahead as planned. In January this year a helicopter crashed in central London. While these situations are rare the public and their elected representatives need to be sure that the fire service (and other emergency services) would be able to cope at such times. During the London riots 98 out of 169 pumps were deployed, leaving 71 pumps to deal with ‘normal’ demand. If the cuts go ahead as proposed and the same number of pumps needed to be deployed this would leave only 53 to deal with ‘normal’ demand.
Whilst I appreciate that economies have to be made in these difficult times I am not satisfied that my constituents’ lives will not be put at risk when all these proposals are taken together. Thus I cannot support these plans.