Stratford firefighters battle budget cuts

Under Option B, 13 fire engines would be taken permanently out of operation

Under Option B, 13 fire engines would be taken permanently out of operation - Credit: Archant

Firefighters were out in force last night as plans to slash £11m from the brigade’s budget continued to divide opinion.

Head of the fire brigade, Ron Dobson, defended his preference to axe two of Newham’s engines at the public meeting in Stratford’s Old Town Hall.

Dobson’s recommendation, which would see an engine lost at both Stratford and Plaistow as well as 11 others across London, is one of two options on the table to make up the shortfall in funds.

The Commissioner also fielded questions over the firefighters’ own welfare.

“We have all been stressed, we have all had anxiety about whether or not there are machines coming back,” Stratford firefighter Russell Brown told the Commissioner. “I feel that’s quite bad on the employer’s side that they aren’t looking out for us.”

Dobson’s maintained that the 13 engines affected under Option B had already been out of action for two-and-a-half years already – and therefore the change wouldn’t have any impact on response times.

“I know it’s been a time of uncertainty,” he replied, adding:

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“Unfortunately having them [the engines] back wouldn’t give the certainty. The only way to give back certainity is not to give them back at all.”

It would be better to face up to the loss of engines than have them for a “few more months”, he said, than having them taken away again at the next round of cuts.

Chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, Gareth Bacon AM said the other option of alternate crewing would be “a big leap into the dark”. In this scenario, one team of firefighters would be responsible for manning a standard fire engine and a specialist fire rescue unit, but no engines would be lost.

Firefighter Mr Brown told the Recorder he thought “everyone in the room” was in favour of Option A.

He added: “Newham is losing 40 per cent of its fire cover. In the next ten years it’s due to increase by 130,000 people, and it’s one of the most deprived boroughs. To take two machines away seems like a big risk.”

Forest Gate resident and Redbridge trade unionist Bob Archer also echoed the concern that a rising population would need more, rather than less, engines in operation.

“We are facing a very big increase in population, there’s an enormous amount of concern here. That’s bound to stress the service in Newham.”

Speaking to the Recorder, the Commisioner emphasised that fire incidents and deaths have gone down dramatically since the 1980s.

He added: “I believe firefighters save more lives [now] by visiting people in their homes. There’s a definite correlation between fire safety visits and how safe people are.”

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