The London Fire Brigade (LFB) is failing to meet response time targets to more than half of all emergencies in the areas where ten fire stations were closed in 2014, new research reveals.
The news comes as it was revealed there have been two more fatal fires at incidents in the capital where fires crews missed their target attendance time, making a total of eight deaths since the fire stations closed.
An analysis published by Lancaster University found around 50% of all call outs in the areas where the stations closed did not meet the six minute response time target for the first fire engine to arrive.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) have branded the findings outrageous but foreseeable, and they warned the former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, about the risks of closing the stations at the time.
Paul Embery, regional secretary of the FBU in London, said: ‘These stats support what our firefighters are experiencing on the frontline. Firefighters are attending fatal emergencies knowing that if they could have got there in the time target, they may have been able to save lives. We warned at the time that the decision to close the ten fire stations would result in deaths.
‘Sadly, those warnings were dismissed and, as a result, lives have been lost. These damning statistics show the need for urgent action by the new mayor Sadiq Khan and the LFB.’
Response times recently breached in Hackney and Wandsworth have resulted in two more fatalities. In Hackney, a 30-year-old man died after it took crews more than 10 minutes to reach the scene. In a separate incident, firefighters responding from Wandsworth fire station, who recently had one of their engines cut as part of the latest round of cuts which saw 13 vehicles removed, Arthur Edwards died in a blaze at his home after it took more than seven minutes for crews to arrive.
Elsewhere, there have been a string of high profile fire deaths over the past year including 85-year-old Choi Yip who, having waited for more than 13-minutes for firefighters to arrive, jumped to his death from the third floor of his Camden home.
This was followed by the deaths of Raymond Lister, 86, and 7/7 hero Dr Claire Sheppey, 47, at separate incidents in Islington. The tragedies occurred just a month apart, and in both cases fire crews failed to meet their target attendance time.
Statistician Dr Benjamin Taylor analysed data from call outs to over 24,000 fires in the capital. He said: ‘Two years on, my analysis would suggest that the impact of the closures may be more substantial than the London Fire Brigade anticipated.
‘In some areas before the closures, the average response time for the first fire engine was well under five minutes. Following the closures, the London Fire Brigade is only able to respond to around 50% of calls in these areas within its six minute target. Some calls take up to 10 minutes to respond to. Even one minute extra can make all the difference to a fire victim’s chances of survival.’
• The number of firefighters at the busiest station in North Wales could be slashed by up to 24 posts, in a move the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has called ‘brutal’ for public safety. North Wales fire authority looks set to cut £1m from its 2019/2020 budget following a meeting last week.
The move, which also includes the removal of one of two fire engines at Wrexham fire station, has led to calls for an independent review into the service before any more cuts are made, in order to maintain the same level of public safety.
Shane Price, secretary of the FBU in North Wales, said: ‘I understand the financial position the service is in, however, losing a further 24 full-time posts within a small service like North Wales will be a devastating loss.
‘We have already suffered huge cuts over the past few years with one-in-five frontline firefighter jobs being cut. It is simply inconceivable that we can take more of this and deliver the same level of service to the public. Wrexham will be hit especially hard by these cuts at a time when the area is facing what the former police and crime commissioner, Winston Roddick, described as an epidemic of arsons. Last year alone, firefighters from Wrexham dealt with 55 arson attacks at the Caia Park housing estate.’
Grant Mayos, FBU executive council member for Wales, said: ‘Following the recent construction and opening of the new £15m joint fire and ambulance station in Wrexham, the first of its kind in Wales, and having been three years in development, to almost instantaneously axe our second fire engine and reduce essential fire cover by half at a busy station such as Wrexham is beyond irresponsible.’
Figures published last year by the FBU revealed that North Wales Fire and Rescue Service had cut the number of frontline firefighters by almost 20% since 2010. The engines based at Wrexham support outlying fire stations at Johnstown, Chirk and Llangollen.
• The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) is calling for lessons to be learnt after a jury at the Civil Justice Centre in Manchester last Wednesday concluded that Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) firefighter and FBU member Stephen Hunt, 38, from Bury died as a result of unlawful killing.
Tragically, safety measures that should have been in place during the handover from the day shift to the night shift, when Stephen and his partner Jeremy Jones took over fighting the fire at Paul’s Hair World in Manchester in July 2013, were sadly absent due to failures in communication and procedures.
At about 2.45pm on 13 July 2013, the hottest day of the year, two girls, whose identities cannot be disclosed for legal reasons, started a fire at the rear fire doors of Paul’s Hair World in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. At 3.00pm GMFRS attended the incident, and after five hours of continuous work by many firefighters, Stephen and his breathing apparatus (BA) partner Jeremy Jones were sent into the building to fight the fire.
Safety measures, supervised by a specialist safety officer, to ensure firefighters did not go any further than the top of six stairs and to limit them to 20 minutes under air, had been in place for most of the afternoon due to the intense heat and changing conditions inside the building.
Opportunities to get Stephen and Jeremy out of the building were missed and they both became overwhelmed by the heat and collapsed. Jeremy, close to death, was rescued near to a decommissioned fire door at 8.35pm but it was too late for Stephen who was brought out of the same door six minutes later and died of his injuries.
Susan Veevers, Stephen’s mother, said: ‘Stephen was much loved and is greatly missed by all his family. We want the true lessons of Stephen’s death to be learned by the fire and rescue service here in Manchester and elsewhere.’ The FBU has undertaken a comprehensive review of the processes that should have prevented Stephen’s death.
Les Skarratts, FBU regional secretary in the North West, said: ‘Stephen was a dedicated, conscientious and skilled firefighter. His premature death is a devastating reminder of the real dangers firefighters face. There have been too many firefighter fatalities, 14 in all, from 2004 to 2013, more than double the previous decade.
‘We have conducted a thorough review of what went wrong in the run-up to Stephen’s death and we welcome that the fire service has committed to working with the FBU to ensure that this does not happen again.
‘We remain however, deeply concerned that fire and rescue authorities and the government have not yet fully implemented recommendations from previous firefighter fatalities.
‘A culture change is required at the highest levels of national and local government to ensure that our concerns are addressed. In particular, sufficient resources have to be made available to allow firefighters to put into practice the required safety control measures at every incident.
‘The FBU is committed to working through the Health and Safety committees, both in Manchester and across the UK, to ensure the training, procedural and operational lessons arising from this incident are learned and not forgotten.
‘The courage and bravery of the firefighters involved in the rescue attempt is honoured by the FBU, particularly Michael Lord, Nathan Rowlands, Anthony Garrott and Graham Burbidge and we will recommend they be considered for bravery awards.’