The mayor’s closure of fire stations will cost lives

Since Boris forced through station closures, fire engine response times have risen dramatically.

Since Boris forced through station closures, fire engine response times have risen dramatically

Sometimes politics can seem a bit far removed from everyday life, and at others it is at the forefront of the things which affect us most. Boris Johnson’s decision last year to close ten of the capital’s fire stations and axe 14 fire appliances is quite literally a life changer.

This week we got the first analysis of response times since the mayor forced through the closures. Despite his assurances, the results have been devastating. Response times in 371 London wards have increased – that’s more than half of the capital’s 649 wards.

Overall there are now 214 areas where it takes longer than the six minute target for a fire engine to arrive, and 141 wards also miss the second fire engine arrival target of 8 minutes.

Whilst increases of a minute here or a few seconds there are brushed aside by the Mayor’s supporters, when you’re dealing with fires, seconds save lives. The speed with which fires take hold and spread means any increase in response time can be acutely dangerous.

It’s not just a few areas which have seen increases. Londonwide average response times have increased for both the first and second fire engine responses. It is very fortunate that so far we have not seen an increase in serious incidents as a result.

The worry among fire fighters is that these cuts are just the first step. Only last week the chair of the Fire Authority James Cleverly refused to rule out another round of cuts. Indeed in some respect it has already started.

Since the closures in January a further 13 fire engines have been removed in order to cover potential strikes, further degrading response times. Whilst it is prudent to plan for strike cover there is absolutely no reason why these appliances should be kept out of service outside of strike periods, as is currently happening.

As a result London has lost 27 fire engines in the last year; it is hardly a surprise that response times are up, in some areas by almost three minutes. What reason does the mayor have for keeping fire engines out of service other than as a precursor to further permanent cuts?

All this comes at a time when nationally fire fighters are under siege, being forced to work to sixty or see their pensions slashed. It is clear that the fire service is in dire straits as a result of Boris Johnson and his colleagues in Government.

The first duty of a mayor is to protect the public. Boris Johnson needs to ask himself whether closing ten fire stations and removing 27 fire engines is really the best way to achieve that.

Fiona Twycross is a Labour London Assembly member. Follow her on Twitter

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.