Fighting for a safe London. FBU members at Woodford fire station in 2010, on strike over shift patterns.
The public consultation on the proposed closure of 12 London fire stations and cutting of 500 jobs ended on 16 June. The opposition to the closures has been led throughout by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which has gone everywhere to tell Londoners what this means. The union message is simple. Paul Embery of the London FBU put it like this: “Closing 12 fire stations would have one result, and that would be to jeopardise public safety. Longer response times would cost lives.”
More than 20 public meetings have been held, and the Fire Brigades Union has been present in every debate at City Hall – and indeed has been following the Mayor of London wherever he goes. On 20 June the FBU’s vocal presence at City Hall was the first time public protest has stopped debate in that chamber, and the Mayor’s response was to just bellow “clear off” and “get lost” into his microphone.
The Mayor and his Chief Fire Officer, Ron Dobson, insist the closures will not affect target response times to incidents. Their other argument is that the number of fires in London has reduced. No one is disputing that – and there are two reasons for the reduction: loss of industry in London, and the magnificent fire prevention work of the London Fire Brigade, which is recognised as a model at home and abroad. In the case of the fire prevention work the Mayor’s argument amounts to the idea that since you are doing so well, we are going to close you down until enough people are dying again. Except that fire stations that close do not reopen.
The FBU points out that the number of domestic fires is set to rise with more people in London living in outhouses, garages and all manner of unsuitable accommodation. Everyone in London now knows the phrase “beds in sheds” as a term for the shanty town accommodation springing up over the city. It was firefighters who coined that phrase.
The current position is that the FBU has called on the mayor to abandon the closure plans, while the Mayor has signalled his determination to press on. The “consultation” phase of the battle has ended, the fight goes on. See footage of the City Hall protest at http://www.london.fbu.org.uk/?p=1991 ■