‘THE PRIME Minister and government ministers are asking people to clap for frontline workers on Thursdays – while their policies continue gutting frontline services,’ FBU (Fire Brigades Union) general secretary Matt Wrack is warning union members and the public.
‘It’s shameless hypocrisy,’ he stressed. ‘While firefighters are taking on sweeping new areas of work to keep their communities safe, they have been completely betrayed by fire chiefs and politicians.
‘Frankly, we don’t know what the world will look like on the other side of this pandemic. Across the political spectrum, people are crying out that we cannot go back to normal – and that has to mean an end to brutal cuts to frontline services.
‘We have entered national negotiations in good faith to help communities through this crisis. If politicians and the NFCC (National Fire Chiefs Council) want that to continue, they need to step in and stop these cuts – this could be the first of many attempts to sneak through cuts to services while the public focuses on the pandemic.
‘If politicians think they are going to make public services pay for this crisis, then they are sadly mistaken.’
Meanwhile, throughout the South East of England, 90 firefighter jobs and 10 fire engines are under threat – and thousands have signed petitions and forwarded protests to the area’s fire authority. It has been deluged with concerns from firefighters and members of the public, as a fight against sweeping fire and rescue service cuts in the county gathers pace.
More than 14,000 concerned residents have signed a petition calling on authority members to reject the proposed cuts, which the FBU warns will ‘decimate’ the county’s fire service.
And FBU analysis has revealed that the county will lose 10 fire engines, at least 30 wholetime firefighters and up to 60 on-call firefighters via such cuts.
Hastings, which has more life-risk fire incidents than anywhere else in East Sussex, will no longer have guaranteed aerial rescue availability, necessary for a high-rise fire like Grenfell. (Outside of London, East Sussex has more high-rise buildings than anywhere else in England’s South).
Now, firefighters covering every station in East Sussex have written to Councillor Roy Galley, chair of the fire authority, to spell out the severity of the cuts planned and to call for them to be halted.
Local firefighters insist they have ‘stepped forward’ to help their community through the coronavirus pandemic by taking on new duties – and that it ‘simply cannot be the case’ that they are thanked with cuts to their jobs and emergency service provision.
More than 1,200 residents have emailed Councillor Galley to say ‘following this crisis, we cannot go back to more cuts to the fire service. We cannot applaud our firefighters, and then viciously cut their service in the name of saving money.’ The FBU is calling on more East Sussex residents to join them.
Firefighters there and also across the country have taken on huge new areas of work to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including driving ambulances; delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to NHS and care staff; and delivering medicines and food to vulnerable people.
But East Sussex fire authority has pushed ahead to consult the public on sweeping cuts to the fire service mid-pandemic, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) drawn up by Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the coronavirus outbreak.
Eliot Parry, East Sussex firefighter and FBU brigade secretary, added: ‘We warned the fire authority that these cuts were dangerous and now our community is crying out with one voice – these cuts will cost lives and must not go ahead.
‘Across East Sussex and the country, we are all trying to pull together to get through this crisis, but the fire authority is exploiting the pandemic as a distraction to push through seriously damaging cuts to our fire service.
‘To all East Sussex residents, as your firefighters, we are always here when you need us, including during this pandemic. But now we need your help. We need you to contact the fire authority and tell them that these cuts must not go ahead. Lives genuinely depend on it.’
Firefighters have warned too of a major threat to public safety as politicians and fire chiefs try to sneak through such cuts while firefighters respond to the coronavirus crisis. The FBU made the comments as a consultation on sweeping fire service cuts were launched in mid-pandemic.
The union has called out the Prime Minister and other government ministers for clapping key workers on a Thursday while turning a blind eye to brutal cuts to a frontline emergency service. Firefighters have agreed to take on sweeping new duties to respond to the coronavirus pandemic – including moving dead bodies, driving ambulances and producing PPE, at the request of the government and the NFCC.
But East Sussex’s Conservative-controlled fire authority has decided to consult the public on sweeping fire service cuts, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) drawn up by Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker and top managers prior to the outbreak.
The proposals include major cuts to the number of fire engines, staffing levels, and night-time fire cover.
- During the same period, a fire in a block of flats in Deptford in south-east London had to be brought under control by 80 firefighters,
The fire broke out on the sixth floor and spread onto the roof causing plumes of smoke which could be seen across London. The cause of the fire is currently unknown.
A dozen fire engines and around 80 firefighters from several local fire stations including New Cross, Greenwich, Old Kent Road, and Lewisham were sent to the scene on Childers Street at 7.26pm after receiving 34 calls about the fire.
The firefighters evacuated the entire block safely and the blaze was brought under control at 12.28pm on Thursday.
Footage filmed by local residents was uploaded online showing the flames on the roof and the billowing smoke.
Then, just this week, firefighters from three counties rushed to a blaze at Langar Airfield Industrial Estate, near Grantham in Lincolnshire, shortly before 2.45pm on May 21. Up to 90 firefighters were called to the scene as smoke billowed into the air, creating a plume visible from as far away as Lincoln.
Overnight crews continued to battle the blaze, with dramatic drone footage capturing the sight. The fire was still burning the next morning, with one firefighter saying the blaze was likely to continue all that day.
Residents living nearby were urged to keep their doors and windows shut and described hearing explosions from as far away as two miles away. On the following day a spokesperson for Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue said it was still ongoing.
Firefighters, who continued to battle the huge blaze at the industrial estate for at least another day, explained: ‘Currently there are three appliances, one Aerial Ladder Platform (ALP) & a High Volume Pump (HVP). Our firefighters will continue to extinguish the fire.
‘The risk of asbestos has been downgraded and we continue to manage the incident. Please keep your windows and doors closed.
‘If you can see the smoke plume or you believe it is affecting your area please continue to keep doors and windows closed and wait for future updates.’
- Meanwhile, London Fire Brigade is urging all cultural attractions to collaborate with their local fire service and develop an emergency plan to mitigate the loss of priceless heritage – should a worst case scenario arise during Covid-19 closure.
With fewer team members, if any, on site during the Covid-19 shutdown, it is now ‘more essential than ever’ that museums and heritage sites have detailed emergency response and salvage plans in place, says the London Fire Brigade (LFB).
For most sites the responsibility of making such arrangements falls on a building manager. LFB urges that checks are carried out regularly throughout this period of enforced closure to ensure fire safety systems and equipment are in good working order.
London Fire Brigade details five ways museums and heritage sites can implement best practice in fire safety during the pandemic:
- switch off non-essential appliances
- substitute older light bulbs with safer LED bulbs
- ensure adequate control measures are in place if construction work is still being carried out on site
- ensure that fire safety systems and equipment are maintained in good working order
- Make sure there is an up-to-date emergency response salvage plan – something that venue managers can produce remotely.
It should identify the priority items that need to be removed from the building, along with other important information such as the size of the item, the number of people required to lift it, any security fastenings that need to be removed and also the exact location of the item within the premises. Also consider how the fire brigade would obtain this information out of hours.
‘Help us to help you is my key message to building managers right now. We’re lucky to have so many beautiful historic buildings in London and we need to make sure they are treasured by generations to come,’ says London Fire Brigade’s heritage team leader, William Knatchbull.
‘Many of London’s venues have emergency response salvage plans in place and work closely with us.
‘But there are still many whom we are yet to hear from, and while they may have plans in place, it would be prudent to work with us to ensure the plans are appropriate to be used by our firefighters in an emergency salvage situation.’