Response to Fire Commissioner: Letter to editor

I feel I must reply to the comments of the Fire Commissioner,  concerning the alternate crewing of two Fire Rescue Units (FRU) and attempting to justify cutting 13 more fire engines instead.  The terrorist threat level in the UK and in London has not changed as a result of Paris and has been at its present level, ‘severe’, since August 2014. This issue was not referred to in the Commissioner’s original paper as a reason not to alternate crew FRUs; indeed his paper accepted the likely need to do this anyway, as part of the next London Safety Plan and was under consideration for the last one.

At present, only volunteers participate in terrorist attack ‘warm zone’ activity, and it is not  expected to be a  role other than for volunteers in the future, so the alternate crewing proposal for just 2 out of 14  FRUs would not affect the response anyway. Those 2 FRUs would still be available, too.

There is no reason why the work needs to be restricted only to the personnel of the 14 FRU fleet. The role envisaged for firefighter  volunteers  in the event of an attack – casualty handing and assistance – does not need the FRU vehicle itself nor the special equipment it carries. The role could be carried out by  any crew on any ordinary frontline pumping appliance provided they were given the specialist training- and could equally be done by  other specialist  personnel, or, all personnel at particular designated stations  as happens for example in  Essex fire service.  There is an obvious  and strong case to say that some fire crews from  a range of central (and indeed outer) London stations should have this training anyway, whichever appliance they are on, to maximise the potential response available.

I also understand that it is a matter of record that the Fire Brigades Union  have specifically told officers  that they  would rather the work wasn’t restricted only to FRU personnel.

In these circumstances,  it is no wiser to remove permanently  the 13 pumps than it would be to introduce alternate crewing on FRUs from the terrorism response view point; and it makes a lot more sense to bring the 13 pumps back to improve attendance   times for the ‘bread and butter’ work of the Fire Brigade. This would also provide more pumps for stand bys at times of large fires, which might have meant there was one at Kentish Town when the Camden Road fire occurred, that would have got there a lot quicker.

if we decommission 13 pumps, they will be gone permanently.  But if necessary, it would be easy to change the status of the proposed just two  FRUs out of 14 from alternate crewing  back to permanent crewing , after   training  a few extra FRU crew members.

Andrew Dismore

Andrew Dismore

Labour London Assembly Member for Barnet and Camden

Chair of  Resources Committee, London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority