We have half the fires but the LibDems see a political opportunity

Ridiculously huffy LibDem assembly member Stephen Knight has joined the far left FBU and the Labour party in condemning the London Fire Brigade’s latest ideas about fire planning.

For me the key bit of the LFB press release was the words:

The savings come against a backdrop of the Brigade:

  • Attending half as many fires compared to a decade ago
  • A third fewer house fires than a decade ago
  • Almost a third fewer incidents altogether

In September LFB announced that the number of fires in London has more than halved over the last decade and is now at its lowest point since records began in 1966. The idea that there is not room to restructure the fire service when times are tough and you are doing half the work you were a decade ago is quite laughable.

Fires overall are down 51%, half, from 55,063 in 2001 to 26,845 in 2011.

The overall number of incidents firefighters attend has dropped by 39 per cent from 187,737 in 2001 to 115,126 in 2011 (this includes call outs to things like road traffic collisions, false alarms and non-emergency calls such as to people stuck in lifts). Obviously false alarms and non-emergency calls are not as large a drain on resources as actual fires.

Note that the number of house fires has not diminished as fast as the overall numbers of fires, down a quarter (26 per cent), from 8,940 in 2001 to 6,618 in 2011. This is because commercial property has got a lot safer over the past decade as modern building regulations have forced the modernisation of commercial buildings up to modern safety standards and LFB themselves have done a lot of work to identify and force improvement of high risk buildings. LFB has also worked very hard to push smoke detectors into homes but has not made such a big impact on domestic premises as it has on commercial ones.

For many years now it has been apparent that LFB was wastefully warehousing firemen in beds over night near commercial centres who weren’t doing very much, besides getting a good night’s sleep. The changes announced by LFB take resources away from places where they have much fewer fires nowadays and push them out to the suburbs where there are more fires at night, especially the early mornings.

The idea that a service that is doing literally half of the work that it was ten years ago cannot safely give up some savings is just silly. I can understand the FBU’s position, it is a union after all and will naturally look after its own. The Labour position shows how ill-equipped it still is to govern. The LibDems in government will not thank Stephen Knight for showing the LibDems in the same light.

If people like Knight want to make us all safer he would be better off reminding people not to smoke in bed and to fit smoke detectors rather than indulging in hysterical shroud waving.

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