The Independent London Newspaper
17th December 2018

THIN RED LINE: Why were fire engines missing? The question Boris must answer

    The fire in Finchley Road last week

    Published: 5 November, 2015
    THIN RED LINE
    INVESTIGATION By WILLIAM McLENNAN 

    MORE than a dozen fire engines that could have provided vital assistance as two fires raged in Camden at the same time – one of which saw a man jump to his death in a bid to escape his smoke-filled flat – were lying unused after Boris Johnson personally intervened to prevent them being returned to fire stations, it has been claimed. 

    The vehicles, which were taken out of service two years ago to provide cover when firefighters went on strike over changes to their pensions, were due to be returned this summer. 

    But the Mayor of London issued a direct order preventing the 13 engines being handed back to the London Fire Brigade and demanding a report be commissioned to see if they could be scrapped altogether to save £11million. 

    Union chiefs have told the New Journal that, had the engines, which include one from nearby Holloway Fire Station, been returned as planned, they would have been on hand to help tackle the fire which burned for more than 80 hours at a parade of shops and flats in Finchley Road and a blaze at a sheltered housing block in Camden Road, Camden Town, where an elderly man was said by witnesses to have jumped from a window.

    Last week's Camden New Journal as tough questions emerge for London Mayor Boris Johnson

    Paul Embery, London head of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), said: “The events last week in Camden proved that you can’t continue to run down fire cover in London, without serious consequences. We have got people dying, literally. People are dying because fire engines are not getting there in time, so to say that we can easily do away with 13 appliances is plainly a nonsense.”

    The homes of 25 people were gutted in Finchley Road, with 10 fire engines and more than 60 firefighters on the scene at the height of the blaze. At the same time, a man named locally as Mr Yip died at a sheltered housing block in Camden Road as fire engines took more than double the six-minute target time to reach him.

    The FBU said that, without cuts to the service last year that saw 10 stations closed, including Belsize and Clerkenwell, they “may have been able to mobilise fire crews 

    to Camden Road in time to save the man’s life”. 

    One firefighter told the New Journal: “It’s absolutely tragic. So awful to think we might have saved that poor man if Belsize was open.”

    Neighbours of the man, who knew him only as Mr Yip, said he was left with “no option” but to jump as his room at the sheltered housing block filled with smoke. 

    A spokesman for the LFB said that the investigation into the death would be led by the coroner. The opening of an inquest at St Pancras Coroner’s Court has been delayed as staff attempt to contact Mr Yip’s family, believed to be living in China. 

    In June, after negotiations between the FBU and the LFB, 13 engines were set to be returned to service, but the move was blocked by Mr Johnson with a last-minute mayoral directive issued on June 15.

    The engines are believed to be lying unused at a Territorial Army base in Croydon.

    The FBU said that Mr Johnson acted in the days before the engines were due to be returned because he “would have calculated that, politically, it would be more convenient to scrap the appliances while they were away from their stations rather than swipe them after they had been returned”. 

    The union added that it “would not cost the brigade a penny” to return the engines.  

    Labour Assembly member Andrew Dismore, who chairs the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s resource committee, said: “I am preparing a budget that will not require the cut of 13 fire engines, but I’m pretty sure that the mayor will overrule it and demand the removal of the 13 engines permanently.”

    A letter, signed by Mr Johnson, justifying the decision at the time, 

    said: “The performance of the LFB has been strong in the period in which those 13 appliances have not been available. 

    “This has led the Mayor to raise the prospect of the financial savings being achieved by decommissioning the 13 appliances.” 

    The mayor’s office did not respond this week when asked to comment on the FBU claim that the 13 engines would have proved vital in covering the two fires last Monday. 

     

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