‘Scrapping Hackney fire engine vital in fight against terrorism’ says London’s top firefighter

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 December 2015 | UPDATED: 13:18 11 December 2015

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

Scrapping one of Hackney’s fire engines could prove vital in the fight against terrorism, according to London’s fire commissioner.

Ron Dobson has told the Gazette alternative options tabled to save the brigade millions every year would “undermine our ability to respond” to a Paris-style attack.

Today he stands firmly by his plan to remove 13 fire engines – including one from Shoreditch – from permanent service across London rather than opt for “alternate crewing” that he says could result in specialist fire rescue units being unavailable at a crucial moment.

Under alternate crewing one team of firefighters is responsible for manning a standard fire engine and a specialist response unit.

Mr Dobson, who oversaw the brigade’s response to the London 7/7 bombings, said: “My worry with alternate crewing is that the crews that I would like to provide our response (to a Paris-style attack) would be from fire rescue units.

Will we be tweeting 999 calls in the future?

In the social media age the more tech-savvy of us are as likely to use Twitter to complain about a late train or lost shopping order as we are to pick up a telephone.

So could emergency 999 incidents ever be reported by tweet? London fire commissioner Ron Dobson thinks so.

“To be honest we’re starting already in emergency services to think about what happens in the future when people start to report 999 incidents via social media rather than by telephone,” he said.

This is just one reason why the London Fire Brigade believes a £283,000 upgrade of its website is vital. The cost has been a contentious one given the brigade’s need to find £8.1million savings next year.

“The fact of the matter is our website desperately needs to be updated in order to help us get our messages across to help people stay safe,” said Mr Dobson.

“We live in a social media age and the London Fire Brigade has got to reflect that.”

The website was last updated in 2008 and is not accessible on mobile devices.

“If they were alternate crewed then, potentially, if the pump attached to the station has been mobilised first then we wouldn’t be able to send the specialist crew to attend until the other engine comes back.”

Asked if this would leave the brigade less able to deal with a terror incident, he said: “Potentially, yes. If those units are alternate crewed it would undermine our ability to respond.”

He has put forward two proposals which include axing 13 fire engines kept in storage for the last two years for use during strike action.

Some of the £907,000 savings gained from the annual cost of crewing an engine would be reinvested to provide extra staff for fire rescue units.

But the chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s (LFEPA) resources committee, Andrew Dismore, has tabled a third option to find savings through alternate crewing and return the engines to use.

“The 13 engines that we’re talking about have actually been away from the frontline for two years,” said the commissioner.

“During that time we’ve continued to achieve our fire attendance time targets at a brigade level and in the majority of boroughs.

“Given that the number of fires in London has continued to fall quite significantly during that period my conclusion is the best way to balance our budget is not to replace these engines into service but to take the savings.”

The brigade has to shave £13.2million from its budget next year and has already found £5.1million of cuts that do not affect the frontline, leaving an £8.1million black hole.

The Fire Brigades Union is staunchly opposed to the loss of engines and says lives may be put at risk if fire response times increase.

It comes after Kingsland was one of 10 London fire stations shut down last January.

But the commissioner, who joined the brigade in 1979 and has held the top job since 2007, said all 142 of London’s fire engines are available to cover the borough.

“There are lots of fire engines around Hackney that work in Hackney as well in terms of operations,” he said.

Both options will now be put out to public consultation lasting eight weeks.

Four meetings will be held across London and, for the first time, the brigade will organise online public meetings.

London Assembly Member Gareth Bacon, chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “If you want your voice heard I urge everyone to visit our website and tell us what they think.”

To take part in the consultation click here

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