THE FIRE Brigades Union (FBU) last week reported that its London members are deeply upset and angry to learn that the number of people killed in fires has risen sharply in the capital, according to the latest figures released by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) this week.
In 2016, the latest year for which figures have been made available, there were 46 deaths in London caused by fire, up from 33 the previous year – a 40 per cent increase. The figures, published in the LFB’s Fire Facts briefing, do not include the 71 victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
Paul Embery, FBU executive council member for London, said: “We are deeply concerned at the correlation between the rise in deaths following the deepest cuts to the brigade in its history, which were pushed through by the former mayor [Boris Johnson].
“This disturbing increase has happened at a time when over 1,000 frontline firefighter posts have been ditched, 10 fire stations closed, and specialist rescue equipment and fire engines have been removed from service.
“In recent years firefighters have had to work with one hand tied behind their backs. Station closures and fewer fire engines mean it is taking longer for fire crews to make it to the incident scene. This means they arrive after the fire has become more intense, when the possibility of rescuing victims becomes fainter and the work far more dangerous.
“Critically, overworked firefighters are now struggling to provide the preventative fire safety work which has historically driven down the number of fatal fires.
“Firefighters welcome mayor Sadiq Khan’s commitment not to make any further frontline cuts to the brigade. However, we need to look at adopting a strategy that gives the brigade the funding it desperately needs in order to drive down fatal fires.”
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack also raised serious concern over a multi-million-pound donation to the LFB by the London Freemasons.
The Masons will gift LFB £2.5 million for the purchase of two extended height aerial vehicles. London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton had asked for the specialist equipment as part of a review into the brigade’s resources that she was asked to undertake by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in July.
But now the vehicles will be provided for on a charitable basis. The FBU says it is extremely concerned that a life-saving public service is now relying on handouts rather than adequate funding from the Government.
Matt Wrack said: “Whilst we appreciate the charity of anyone who wishes to support our firefighters, the idea that a professional, life-saving public service has to go around with a begging bowl to organisations with deep pockets is deeply alarming.
“If the equipment is needed to save lives, then the funding for it should be provided by Government. This deal sets a pretty awful precedent that could allow the Government to discharge its responsibilities in the future.
“We also have grave concerns that the donation in question has come from an organisation that disbars women from joining – a deeply offensive practice that needs to come to an end.”