‘WE WILL PROTECT OUR FIRE SERVICE’ –pledges FBU general secretary Matt Wrack

Kingsland firefighters at the head of their march in a buoyant and determined mood
Kingsland firefighters at the head of their march in a buoyant and determined mood

UP TO 800 firefighters and their supporters on Saturday marched and rallied against the closure of fire stations in London.

One march set off from from Kingsland fire station in Hackney and was joined by marchers from Clerkenwell fire station in Islington.

Firefighters carrying FBU banners led the Hackneymarch, with banners from Hackney TUC, Hackney Unison, UCU members with a banner Save Our Community College, and Hackney Young Socialists, who won support for their shouts of ‘Defend fire stations – occupy! FBU must act – national strike now! No cuts, no closures – kick this government out! TUC get off your knees – call a general strike!’

The Clerkenwell marchers were led by a fire engine with the slogan ‘Workers of the world unite’ on its side.

This was followed by firefighters with FBU flags and banners from Islington Unison, Camden Trades Council, Camden Unison, Unite in the Community, Islington TUC, a large contingent carrying GMB flags, and Defend Whittington Hospital Coalition.

News Line spoke to people gathering for the Hackney march outside Kingsland fire station.

Hackney YS member Fatima Sarif, said: ‘We need a local fire station. If they closed this one it would take too long for fire engines to come from another station.

‘People could die. The unions should take action. People should occupy fire stations to keep them open, as well as hospitals.’

Hackney YS member Gibril Sonko added: ‘The government want to save money to pay the banks.

‘It would be dangerous if this station in Hackney were closed and fire engines had to come from somewhere else.

‘The trade unions should take action to stop the cuts. They are not doing enough at the moment.

‘We need a general strike so we can get our jobs back – get a new government that will sort things out for young people and workers.’

Ex-Homerton firefighter, now a Tube worker, Gary Jackson told News Line: ‘When I was a firefighter, I often served here at Kingsland.

‘I live in Hackney and my local fire station is Bethnal Green, which only has one fire engine.

‘If my house were to catch light, the attendance would be supplemented by Kingsland fire station.

‘If they get rid of Kingsland, we’ll be two fire engines short which will dramatically reduce fire cover.

‘We have to keep all London fire stations open.

‘Bethnal Green lost one fire engine under Labour and it’s one of the most densely populated areas of London.

‘And firefighters don’t just put out fires. This station has an incident response unit to deal with terrorist attacks or carry out chemical decontamination.

‘The government paid for these things, now they want to close this station.

‘The unions must take action. It’s the thin end of the wedge.

‘I’d support occupations to stop the closures.’

Kingsland crew manager, FBU member Stavros Marangos, said: ‘We are here today to prevent the closure of our fire station and all the other stations.

‘There are certain cuts that are a cut too far.

‘London’s population is going to grow to up to ten million by 2030, yet the government is reducing services to the London population.

‘They claim they can maintain attendance times, but recent research carried out for the London Fire Brigade has admitted attendance times will suffer.

‘When every second counts in an emergency, you can’t afford to take risks with people’s lives.

‘It’s not only lives, it’s livelihoods, homes, and firefighters’ jobs under threat.

‘I would like to emphasise, we don’t only respond to fires, we tackle traffic collisions, people stuck in lifts, locked out or locked in, and chemical incidents.

‘Communities will suffer from fire station closures.’

FBU member Jane, added: ‘We’re making our presence known that we don’t want this closure to happen.

‘We need all our fire stations. People will be affected by the closure plan and it will take people dying for them to realise what they have done.

‘But by then it will be too late. We have to stop the closures going ahead.

‘It’s all just to save money. People don’t want to save 7p a week, they want their fire stations to stay open.

‘We’re supporting our union, we have to save our fire stations and our jobs.

‘If it comes to compulsory redundancies, there’ll have to be strike action.’

Homerton FBU rep Karl Haider said: ‘I’m here to support the firefighters at Kingsland and the community to stop the unnecessary closure of Kingsland fire station.

‘It’s a shame that mayor Johnson and the Fire Commissioner are putting money before people’s lives.

‘They’ve been holding consultation meetings and no one has argued to close their local fire station – quite the opposite, they want the cuts reversed.

‘The Fire Brigade is a cheap insurance policy against life’s mishaps. We’re a 24/7, 365 days a year service. For £1 a week, we’re very cheap!

‘Along with our local communities, the FBU will fight to keep our fire stations open.’

Before they set off, FBU general secretary Matt Wrack told the assembled marchers: ‘There’s marches taking place all over, this is just the start of the campaign.

‘An edict has come out that people on duty are not even allowed to look out of the fire station windows – let’s make some noise! No fire cuts!

‘I used to work here. Ron Dobson and Mayor Johnson didn’t build these fire stations, they’re our fire stations.

‘They want to close 12 fire stations. The targets they have are worse than 30 years ago. Times getting to fires are worse than 20 years ago.

‘This is about protecting a service we need for London.

‘We are going to protect our fire service.’

A rally in Clerkenwell at the end of the march was addressed by Wrack and a number of local trade unionists, Labour, Lib Dem and Green councillors, Labour MPs, and a Defend Whittington Hospital speaker.

FBU member, Clerkenwell firefighter Greg Edwards told the rally: ‘We’re opposed to these cuts. People in this area will be the losers if our fire station closes.

‘We make the difference between life and death.

‘If these cuts go through there will be an enormous price to be paid.

‘We face ten per cent of the fire service being cut – this is where it stops.’