'We know we need to reach fires in Havering faster' says London's top firefighter

PUBLISHED: 08:00 04 December 2015 | UPDATED: 13:17 11 December 2015

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

But fire commissioner says returning Romford's fire engine is not the way to improve performance

London’s fire commissioner has admitted more needs to be done to ensure firefighters reach blazes in Havering faster – even as he defended plans to permanently scrap one of Romford’s engines.

Ron Dobson stood firmly behind his plans to axe 13 fire engines from across London to save £11million, as he told the Recorder building new fire stations was a better way to reduce response times.

Figures show the brigade has breached its eight-minute target this year and last year for a second engine to reach a fire in Havering. Its own figures show second response times will get worse if a Romford engine is permanently lost.

The commissioner said: “We know we’ve got some boroughs that are still outside attendance targets and we’ve been working hard to try and improve that by, in some cases, opening new fire stations.

Dealing with Paris-style terror attack a key concern

Scrapping 13 fire engines could prove vital in the fight against terrorism, according to London’s fire commissioner.

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

Removing engines is preferable to opting for “alternate crewing” - in which one team of firefighters man a standard engine and a specialist fire rescue unit - which he says could result in specialist response units being unavailable at a crucial moment.

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.

“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.”

“So in Havering we opened Harold Hill fire station a few years ago, and the idea was to improve attendance.”

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

The commissioner has put forward two proposals which include scrapping 13 fire engines kept in storage for the past two years for use during strike action, including one from Romford fire station.

He admitted this had affected second response times within the borough.

“If the second engine did come back it would help second response times in that area, but I’ve always said we do plan cover on a London-wide and a borough-wide basis,” said Mr Dobson.

“Unfortunately Havering is already outside target, so we need more than just that fire engine going back to improve that.”

He said the brigade will look with fresh eyes at how it provides fire cover in the future under its sixth London Safety Plan.

“We’d very much like to change the distribution of fire cover generally in order to improve attendance times.

“We are sadly still very much hindered by the fact that our fire stations are where they are for historic reasons, when we had national standards that we had to achieve.

“What I’d like to think is as part of our London Safety Plan Six, which we’ll be working on next year, we’ll be able to improve attendance times by building some new fire stations and moving stations around.

“I’d very much like to think we can bring Romford within target.”

He firmly backed scrapping engines to meet next year’s budget gap.

“The 13 engines that we’re talking about have actually been away from the frontline for two years,” said the commissioner, who joined the brigade in 1979 and has held the top job since 2007.

“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.”

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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