Did you know that London has been missing 13 fire engines for over two years? Back in August 2013, 27 fire engines were taken out of service to be used as contingency in case firefighters went on strike. 14 of these were permanently taken out of service in January 2014, and Boris Johnson has asked the Fire Commissioner to look at removing the remaining 13 in order to find £11m in savings.
There are two options being considered: either get rid of the 13 that are currently sitting idle, which were originally removed from Chelsea, Ealing, Erith, Forest Hill, Holloway, Old Kent Road, Plaistow, Poplar, Romford, Shoreditch, Stratford, Wandsworth and Willesden; or take out an engine from stations that have — or are supposed to have — two: Ealing, East Greenwich, Forest Hill, Hammersmith, Hornsey, Norbury, Old Kent Road, Romford, Shoreditch, Sidcup, Stratford, Wandsworth and West Hampstead.
You’ll note that seven stations are due to permanently lose an engine under both of these plans.
Does this matter? The engines have been out of service for over two years and London has evidently coped. Modelling indicates that response times London-wide would inevitably rise, but by three seconds for a first engine and 18 seconds for a second. This would be on top of rises following the January 2014 fire station closures and engine removals, where first engine response time rose by 12 seconds and second engine response time by 23 seconds. However, all these times still fall within targets.
And yet: two recent fires in Camden highlight the risks of stretching the fire service too thinly. While 10 fire engines tackled a blaze in Hampstead, another fire broke out at a sheltered housing block in Camden Town. It took 13 minutes for crews to arrive on the scene, by which time a man had jumped from a window and died. Firefighters told the Camden New Journal they believe they could have got there in time to save the man’s life had Belsize and Clerkenwell fire stations still been open.
London Assembly Member Andrew Dismore has put forward an alternate plan which he thinks could find the required savings and see the 13 engines returned to service. You can read these proposals from page nine of the budget update (PDF), and more details of the Commissioner’s response to the mayor about removing the 13 engines in appendix nine (PDF) of this supplementary document.