‘We won’t accept closures!’ says FBU leader Matt Wrack

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A section of the big firefighters’ lobby of the London Fire Authority in Waterloo yesterday
A section of the big firefighters’ lobby of the London Fire Authority in Waterloo yesterday

SEVERAL thousand firefighters and supporters yesterday lobbied the London Fire Authority meeting in Southwark which was to vote on the London Fire Commissioner’s revised programme of cuts and closures.

These include closing ten fire stations, reducing the number of fire engines (pumping appliances) by 14, and reducing the number of fire rescue units (specialist rescue vehicles) from 16 to 14.

Crewing levels on fire rescue units are to be cut from five firefighters to four, and the number of firefighter posts overall reduced by 552 instead of 520.

The fire stations facing closure are: Belsize, Bow, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich.

First response units at Hornchurch and Millwall fire stations are to be axed.

The cuts to frontline services are in response to cuts to the London Fire Brigade budget by both the government and the London Mayor of £45m over two years.

Chancellor Osborne’s recent spending review will see a further 7.5% reduction in fire and rescue service grant. It is unknown how this reduction will impact on the London Fire Brigade in 2015/16.

Addressing a rally, Matt Wrack, General Secretary of the FBU, said: ‘The cuts that Mayor Johnson is proposing is supposed to be a London Fire Service plan.

‘It’s nothing to do with safety and everything to do with the budget.

‘They are saying there are fewer fires and that there-fore they do not need as many stations staff or appliances.

‘A fire station is there to first and foremost protect lives.

‘If there are fewer fires, it is down to the dedication and skill of the fire service, not just in fighting fires but in public safety and spreading awareness through education.

‘If there are fewer fire services people will wait longer, they will be affected and there will be more deaths – that’s the truth, that is what will happen.

‘There have been two major disasters recently: one in the West Midlands and one in Smethwick in Greater Manchester.

‘After the major incident in Smethwick, the next day, Eric Pickles, the Local Government and Communities Secretary contacted the local brigade to say what a brilliant job they had done.

‘Would they have been able to do so if they had faced more cut?.

‘I don’t think so.

‘In Manchester, like in London, they are stretched to the limit and any more cuts will mean more people dying.’

He continued: ‘We have launched a national ballot on pensions which they want to cut.

‘Part of the same issue is that they want firefighters to work until they are 60.

‘Firefighters can’t work that long, it’s impossible. I urge all FBU members to vote “yes” an go for strike action.

‘I don’t accept a single station appliance or job cut in London.

‘This government is trying to make ordinary working people pay for the crisis created by the bankers and the bosses.

‘The fight carries on and it gets stronger. If we stick together we can win.’

The President of the South East Region of the TUC, Martin Gould, told the rally: ‘I bring the solidarity of two million trade unionists in London and the South East region. SERTUC and the TUC support your fight, we remember disasters like the King Cross fire and the recent crane disaster in Battersea.

Without the fire brigade there would have been many more deaths.’