The Independent London Newspaper
16th December 2018

THIN RED LINE: The men who pushed through cuts to fire brigade close ranks

    James Cleverly and Boris Johnson

    James Cleverly and Boris Johnson insist cuts made no impact to attendance times
     
    Published: 19 November, 2015
    THIN RED LINE INVESTIGATION 
    By WILLIAM McLENNAN 

    KEY figures involved in forcing through controversial cuts to the fire brigade have closed ranks when quizzed by the New Journal over the death of an elderly man who jumped to his death from a burning flat.

    They denied there was a connection between the closure of 10 fire stations and the death of pensioner Choi Yip, who jumped as he waited for firefighters who arrived seven minutes behind schedule.

    Ron Dobson, the commissioner of the London Fire Brigade (LFB) and James Cleverly, a Conservative MP who served as the Mayor of London’s righthand man as the cuts were enacted, rejected firefighters’ claims that they could have reached the blaze in Camden Town quicker before the cuts.

    They were responding to questions from the New Journal after the Mayor’s Office said Boris Johnson would not give us a comment on how the Brigade became stretched by two major fires on the same day. 

    Mr Yip died during the fire at his sheltered housing flat in Ashton Court, Camden Road, on October 26.

    The first fire engine took 13 minutes and 21 seconds to arrive – more than double the six minute target. At the same time, 10 engines and 60 firefighters were at a blaze in Finchley Road.

    After Mr Yip’s death,the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said the cuts, which included the closure of nearby Belsize fire station and the loss of 14 engines, “meant that the Brigade’s response to this incident was severely delayed”.


    Ron Dobson: 'If you have a big fire it is going to impact on attendance times'

    The New Journal buttonholed Mr Dobson as he left a City Hall meeting on Thursday, at which he had recommended another 13 fire engines could be scrapped without severely affecting response times.

    We asked him whether the Brigade was still capable of dealing with two fires at the same time.

    “Yeah, we are,” he insisted. “If you have a big fire it is going to impact on attendance times elsewhere because you are using your resources and we haven’t got the resources to actually guarantee attendance times at every time of the day and night, irrespective of what incidents are occurring.”

    He maintained there was “no credibility” in the union’s claims. Mr Cleverly, the chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority when the cuts were forced through, gave a similar response when he returned our calls, insisting it had not been proved that the closures had slowed down the response.

    But a senior firefighter in Camden, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told the New Journal: “You should have the resources to guarantee attendance times, because we used to. We are stretched and it will blow up in their face when you have another couple of big incidents at the same time in London. We won’t be able to cover it.

    Sometimes things go wrong, there’s other circumstances, but 13 minutes for a fire engine to get there, it’s disgraceful and it should never haver happened.”

    Illustrating the impact of the cuts, the firefighter said that an engine from West Hampstead was sent to tackle a fire eight miles away in Clapham earlier this month, adding: “That’s ridiculous. It’s a long way to go. Things like that didn’t used to happen.”

    Reacting to Mr Dobson’s claims, FBU regional secretary Paul Embery said: “It beggars belief that he can blame demand in the rest of London for this failure but then support scrapping 13 more fire engines. We have a commissioner who accepts that the Brigade couldn’t meet the demand, but who is willing to reduce the capacity of the Brigade even further in the future.”

    He added: “Our argument has always been that there will be times like this when serious fires break out simultaneously. By cutting the service so sharply, our ability to cope at such times has been impaired.”

    We were right to do it, says Boris Johnson's loyal lieutenant

    JAMES Cleverly, the man who championed the cuts to London’s fire brigade at City Hall, has defiantly insisted the death of Choi Yip cannot be blamed on station closures.

    Challenged by the New Journal on claims by fire fighters that the cuts severely delayed rescue crews from reaching Mr Yip before he jumped to his death from his burning sheltered accommodation flat on Camden Rod last month, he accused his critics of not being credible.

    Mr Cleverly was one of the Mayor’s loyal lieutenants as he helped implement the cuts programme, including the shutting down of 10 fire stations, among them Belsize and Clerkenwell, through City Hall in 2013 as the chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority.

    He later scored the coveted selection in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of Braintree and entered the House of Commons as an MP in May.

    Asked about whether the cuts caused crucial delays in the race to rescue Mr Yip, as suggested by the firefighters’ union, Mr Cleverly said: “It is impossible for them to say that with certainty. I think it would be much wiser for the FBU to wait for the details of that fire investigation to come out before they start making these opportunistic allegations.”

    The New Journal responded by asking if we could interview him again when a coroner had established the full facts, but Mr Cleverly, who many firefighters still blame for the cuts going ahead, said he was unlikely to change his view.

    “What I think will not change,because what I think is not based on the circumstances of any one incident,” he said. 

    “What I think is that the idea that the nature of risk in London could change so fundamentally and the Fire Brigade not change at all, is just not tenable.”

     

    Comments

    Cuts to London fire brigade but extra funding for MI5/MI6

    Due to the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, our government has announced that it will now employ nearly 2000 more staff to work for the British security services. Funny how the funds can be found for this when our fire brigade is being brutally cut back. If there's a terrorist attack in London, it will be emergency rescue services that people really need, like the fire brigade (just like the 7/7 underground bombings). Even if there isn't another terrorist attack, spending on the fire brigade is money well spent as there will always be fires and other emergency situations where the fire brigade is needed. The fact the government can conjure up funds for secret service operatives but not essential services speaks volumes. The same goes for money spend on military etc. Clearly the government doesn't care how much is spent in the name of national security but when it comes to vital public services money is more important than lives.

    Lies to cover up their failings

    There has been no significant change in the nature of risk. People are still at risk of losing their lives in fires, road, rail and air crashes, chemical accidents, terrorist attacks etc. Their survival depends on various factors, but one of those is how quickly the fire brigade arrives.

    When they talk about changing risk, they are talking about a drop in the number of incidents in recent years. Yet if that suddenly justifies cutting fire engines and closing fire stations, why did they not increase them when the number of calls doubled, then trebled, then quadrupled? The reason is simple, the number of calls is irrelevant - you determine where you have fire engines, and how many, by your need to reach all areas quickly.

    It is a nonsense to say that if your area has 1,000 calls in a year you will get a response in 5 minutes, but if you only have 500 you will have to wait 10 minutes. The calls are not any less dangerous, but these stupid politicians and their pandering commissioner don't care about your safety.

    Support moves

    They are being a little disingenuous...the fire authority are required to have in place arrangements with neighbouring fire brigades to provide mutual support in times of need. These 'over the border' arrangements mean that as resources are drawn into a major incident reinforcements are requested to move up into the gaps in cover left by appliances either attending the incident or moving internally to fill the local gaps.

    It may well have been that such a request was considered 'not politically expedient'...a question to as the control room manager who would be responsible for such supporting movements!!

    Cuts in fire cover

    Appliances that are no longer there clearly cannot be moved in any direction,either on the initial response or on make ups or standbys,this compromises the publics safety and the safety of the first crews committed.The control manager can only use the resources available at any one time,clearly the trend is going to be blame everybody and everything except the politicians when it all goes wrong and Nationally it is going wrong on a scale not seen since WW2.

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