London’s most senior firefighter says proposed fire station closures and the redeployment of fire engines will not endanger lives or slow down response times.
Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson gave the assurances as he unveiled proposals to close 12 stations and axe 18 engines to meet £45m budget cuts imposed on Central Government and City Hall.
Stations earmarked for closure include Westminster, Southwark and Knightsbridge.
The number of engines at Chelsea, Chingford, Hayes, Leyton Leytonstone, Peckham and Whitechapel stations will be cut from two to one. However Hendon, Orpington, Stanmore and Twickenham will each gain an additional engine.
The changes will see 520 jobs cut, though the Commissioner expressed hope that forced redundancies could be avoided.
Commissioner Dobson said the London Fire Brigade planned cover on a pan-London, not Borough-specific, basis and that fire crews are not currently always deployed from the local fire station and that the changes would not impact on response time targets for the first and second appliances on scene.
The proposals are part of a draft fire plan for the capital which will be presented to the full London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority later this month.
The Authority will be asked to approve a public consultation on the plan which would run until June. If approved, the final plan would be implemented later this year.
Mr Dobson said the proposals should be seen against a backdrop of falling numbers of fires and call-outs over the past decade and vowed to continue efforts to reduce the downward trend.
Other measures include seeking to recover a greater share of the Brigade’s costs when it assists brigades in neighbouring counties, recovering costs from persistent false alarm offenders and increasing efforts to encourage building owners to put in place in-house lift rescue arrangements.
Mr Dobson commented: “Having spent 33 years as a firefighter serving the capital I know how important it is to respond to incidents as quickly as possible and I have every intention of maintaining our current response time targets for first and second fire engines.
“With all the work we do to prevent fires happening, and response times that are still amongst the best in the country, I am confident these savings can be made while keeping London safe.”
A spokesperson of the London Fire Brigade Union has described the proposals as “reckless and wrong.”
There has also been criticism from London Assembly Members.
Green Party AM Darren Johnson said Mayor Boris Johnson could have kept more stations open by not going ahead with a promised cut in City Hall’s share of the council tax.
Mr Johnson said: “The public are desperately worried about these closures. Rather than cutting council tax the mayor should be providing the funding to keep these fire stations open.
“The closures are completely unnecessary but the mayor seems more interested in council tax cuts than London’s safety.”
Navin Shah AM, Labour’s Fire spokesperson on the Assembly, commented: “How can cutting 12 of our fire stations, 18 fire engines and 400 firefighters be in the best interest of Londoners? The London Fire Brigade and their dedicated staff do a fantastic job keeping us safe and helping us when we need it most.
“The government are cutting too far and too fast, hitting the frontline and fundamentally undermining the ability of the fire brigade to do their job. It’s time that the Mayor stood up for Londoners and got a better deal from central government.”
On Twitter, Liberal Democrat AM Stephen Knight said: “Boris’s fire cuts announced today will make London less safe and are unnecessary. London’s safety must come before a trivial 7p per week tax cut.”
Mr Knight later said the reforms “will be opposed by Liberal Democrats on the London Fire Emergency and Planning Authority.”