SAVAGE Tory cuts to the fire service have led the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) to ask the following ominous question: ‘Could the London Fire Brigade cope with another King’s Cross fire in 2017?’
Today is the 30th anniversary of the tragic King’s Cross fire, where on 18 November 1987 a fire broke out on the escalator at about 7.45pm. The fire claimed the lives of 31 people and left over 100 more with injuries.
A special joint commemoration event takes place at 11am this morning at King’s Cross station where the FBU, RMT, ambulance services and Camden Council will be among those represented. An inquiry into the fire determined that it had started because of a lit match being dropped onto the escalator.
The fire seemed minor until it suddenly increased in intensity, and shot a violent, prolonged tongue of flame and billowing smoke, up into the ticket hall. At the time, 30 fire engines from 22 stations sent crews to the King’s Cross blaze.
Since 1987, six of those 22 stations have now been shut while 13 fire engines have been axed, all because of Tory cuts. In 2014, Boris Johnson, who was Tory London Mayor at the time, closed down ten fire stations across London. Similarly, in 1987 there were lots of London Underground station staff present doing their best to assist people during the fire.
Now, because of Tory cuts, most of the London Underground ticket offices have been closed and hundreds of station staff’s jobs have been axed. The FBU gave the following stark warning: ‘The capability to cope with a repeat of the King’s Cross fire has been severely hampered by cuts to life-saving fire and rescue service resources in the capital. More than 1,500 London firefighter jobs have gone as well.’
Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU, himself a former London firefighter, said: ‘How many more lives have to be put at risk, or even taken, before they will sit up and listen? Six stations that responded to King’s Cross – Clerkenwell, Belsize, Westminster, Manchester Square, Kingsland and Silvertown – have all been shut down.
‘This means that efforts to cope with another similar incident could be severely hampered, as there would be reduced capacity but also fire crews would have to travel from further afield which would delay the response. It is obscene that we are having to highlight this extremely concerning depletion of emergency response resources in our capital, in the very same year as the dreadful Grenfell Tower fire took more lives through fire in London than any since World War Two. The government must address the issue of cuts to fire and rescue services up and down the country in the budget next week. It needs investment, not more cuts.’
RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: ‘RMT will be attending the joint commemoration event today and our thoughts will be with all of those who lost their lives or were injured in this tragic event which still resonates throughout the transport industry thirty years on.
‘The King’s Cross fire stands alongside the appalling disaster at Grenfell Tower as a reminder to everyone that safety and regulation must remain our watchwords regardless of what the bottom line says on a set of accounts.
‘RMT has pledged to continue to fight cuts to jobs and budgets across London underground, the wider rail industry and every sector that this trade union organises in. We will oppose with every tool at our disposal any moves which compromise the safety culture or water down the regulatory framework.
‘This weekend’s Kings Cross fire commemoration event will reinforce in all of us the need to be ever vigilant in respect of the safest possible staffing, standards and legislation to avoid a repeat of this tragedy.’