FBU condemns AssetCo’s ‘provocative manoeuvre’

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A section of the firefighters march in London on September 16 to defend jobs and demanding no cuts to the service
A section of the firefighters march in London on September 16 to defend jobs and demanding no cuts to the service

‘AssetCo have taken 27 fire engines off station,’ London FBU official Ian Leahair told News Line.

The private company AssetCo was awarded a 5-year contract in July 2009 by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) for the provision of an Emergency Fire Crew Capability Service to the London Fire Brigade (LFB) of up to 700 staff trained to provide a ‘contingency firefighting service’.

On its website, AssetCo state: ‘The award of this contract will assist LFEPA in meeting its statutory duty to provide crew resilience if existing services require support with extreme situations such as a pandemic illness or flooding.

‘This is the first major contract of its nature to be awarded by a UK Fire and Rescue Service, reflecting the increasing role Fire and Rescue Authorities have in securing their own business continuity arrangements without reliance upon the support of the MoD.

‘AssetCo already owns, maintains and manages the operational availability of all the front-line fire and rescue vehicles and operational equipment used at the 111 LFB stations operating in and around London under a 20-year PFI contract.’

In response to AssetCo’s engine withdrawal, Leahair added: ‘The FBU is disgusted by such a provocative manoeuvre before strike dates have been announced.

‘Two of the appliances were in service, at Leighton and Chingford fire stations.

‘They just came in and took them off the run.’

London FBU sent the following circulars to members on Wednesday.

The latest said: ‘Further to earlier messages, we are aware that some crew and watch managers have now received letters from the brigade, vaguely threatening “managerial action” (which doesn’t necessarily mean disciplinary action) if they don’t agree to place DPL’s on the run at a newly-designated one-appliance (station), even though that appliance is not carrying a 9-metre ladder.

(A Dual-Purpose Pump Ladder [DPL] is the standard type of firefighting vehicle used by the London Fire Brigade – News Line).

‘The letter also states that the actions of these crew and watch managers do not fall within the FBU’s official industrial action.

‘First, we need to make it absolutely clear that our advice that members are entitled to take appliances off-the-run in the absence of a 9-metre ladder has absolutely nothing to do with the industrial action, but has instead been issued on health and safety grounds.

‘Second, whatever threats the brigade issues, nothing alters the fact that DPL’s at one-appliance stations must as a matter of course carry a 9-metre ladder, and without it should not be placed on-the-run.

‘Nor is it acceptable for the brigade to get round this by offering to send an additional appliance equipped with a 9-metre ladder to any fire calls, as this is something that should happen as a matter of course anyway.

‘We say again that members are perfectly entitled to take DPL’s off-the-run in the absence of a 9-metre ladder, and we can confirm that watch officers throughout the brigade are doing this. If these members are subjected to any form of disciplinary action, the FBU will defend them vigorously.

‘No to bullying. No to mass sackings. Stand firm and stick together!’

An earlier circular to all London FBU branches said: ‘Following the unexpected and provocative actions of the brigade today in removing 27 frontline pumping appliances from the operational fleet, in advance of any industrial action even being announced, the Fire Brigades Union’s health and safety officials have met and discussed areas of concern raised by members.

‘All Fire Brigades Union members should follow this health and safety advice.

‘Today, we contacted the brigade’s health and safety joint secretary, AC Jim Knighton, condemning the brigade’s complete failure to honour its obligations under health and safety regulations to consult on such changes, given the seriousness of the implications in terms of safe systems of work.

‘The formal reply from the brigade is that they consider the removal of the 27 frontline appliances from the front as having no health and safety concerns.

‘They only considered carrying out a risk assessment, with ‘consider’ being the operative word. We have not been presented with a risk assessment or any changes to standard operating policy or safe systems of work.

‘We’ve been notified of no control measures from the brigade that in our view deals with the additional risk being placed upon you.

‘To add to the confusion, the brigade’s management team seems to be in disarray about the status of affected stations.

‘We were originally told that all of these stations were now becoming one-appliance stations – therefore a change in the status to one-appliance would mean a change of equipment required to be carried, as well as crewing arrangements, both managerial and in terms of numbers.

‘Late this evening, further communication was received from the joint secretary that the brigade’s interpretation was that these stations were all now two-appliance stations, but bizarrely “without their pump”.

‘The inconsistency of the message that’s coming out, further adds to the confusion and risk.

‘Therefore, the following guidance has been issued below is to cover both eventualities, ensuring that the managerial staff at station level do not expose members to excessive risk that they could be held individually responsible for.

• ‘If your station is considered to be one-appliance station, we advise you under the health and safety regulations and safe systems that you are required to have both operational ladders on the appliance – the 135 and 9-metre ladders at the same time.

‘If one is not available, our advice under health and safety is that you should not put the appliance on the run.

• ‘If your station is considered to be a one-appliance, then the appropriate crewing levels are as follows: watch manager, crew manager, minimum of three other riders, normal riding total of six personnel.

‘Standard operating systems for breathing apparatus indicate crew managers should in normal circumstances lead crews into incidents.

‘Therefore it is appropriate, given the brigade has made these changes, that full crewing is available as the norm.

• If your station is considered to be a two-appliance station, then there is the assumption that the pump will return from wherever it’s been, and therefore our advice is members should not be sent out to other stations to carry out other work or ride other appliances at other stations because your home station is still designated as two-appliance.

‘Health and safety regulations state that if something is foreseeable, then appropriate control measures need to be put in place.

‘If the brigade has no intentions of returning the pumps to the station, then the guidance above for one-appliance stations must be applied.’

The circular concluded: ‘Health and safety representatives from the Fire Brigades Union are being made aware of this advice.

‘We will be pursuing the brigade and their failures again to abide by health and safety legislation as a matter of urgency.’