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Boris Johnson “putting lives at risk” over Clerkenwell fire closure plan

PUBLISHED: 07:56 05 May 2013

angry fire fighters standing in front of their station Clerkenwell which has served the community for 140 years, at Rosebury Avenue, EC1. Pic: Dieter Perry

angry fire fighters standing in front of their station Clerkenwell which has served the community for 140 years, at Rosebury Avenue, EC1. Pic: Dieter Perry

Dieter Perry

Boris Johnson was this week accused of putting lives “at risk” as figures emerged showing increased waiting times from Clerkenwell Fire Station’s planned closure could be the difference between “life and death”.

MP Emily Thornberry attacked the Mayor of London after speaking publicly for the first time about the axe being wielded at Europe’s oldest fire station.

Claiming there is “no rhyme or reason” behind the closure plans, she said Greater London Authority fire budget cuts meant lives will be endangered.

Speaking to the Gazette after her first public speech over the issue at an Islington Town Hall meeting last Thursday, she called for a root and branch review.

She said: “They have not done a proper review based on cover. It has to be done in a way that makes sense.

“They were going to close Upper Street. There is no rhyme or reason to it. All they are doing is taking the publicly owned stations and flogging them off to make money. This is not about ensuring the public’s safety.

“We need a community fire station that is based in a community building. I think Boris’s cuts are putting people at risk. It’s reckless, ill-thought through and superficial.

“Boris should look at the detail and do a real review. This is not a proper review of what London needs.”

The Islington South and Finsbury MP said more than 3,000 people have signed a local Labour party petition opposing the move.

Figures compiled by Clerkenwell’s branch of the Fire Brigades Union show the station closing will mean first fire engines to incidents will take up to 26 seconds longer and the second, back-up engine up to 52 seconds.

Clerkenwell fire fighter Greg Edwards, 45, who has been in the service for 21 years, said this can be the difference between “life and death”.

He said: “It not only puts the public at risk, it puts being able to work properly at risk if we have to wait longer for the second fire engine to turn up.

“The cuts are based on the budget and not on the risks that are actually faced across London.

“It doesn’t take into account the risk at the individual stations. It’s purely driven by an average time.

“It can be the difference between life and death because fire can develop quite quickly, 50 seconds can make a lot of difference for back-up to come. At the end of the day you want a fire engine getting there as quickly as possible.”

The planned closure of Kingsland Road fire station in neighbouring borough Hackney will also exacerbate waiting times, he added.

The GLA is planning to shred about £45million from a fire budget of more than £400million meaning the loss of about 520 fire fighters, 12 stations and 18 fire engines.

Clerkenwell is ranked the fourth-most utilised fire engine for emergency incidents in London and has received 12,935 calls over the last five years.

For 2011/12 – the latest figures available – fire stations in Islington mobilised engines 6,228 times, 57 per cent of which were to incidents in the borough.

Current average attendance times mean first fire engines reach incidents in 4.43 minutes while the second ones make it in 5.38 minutes.

Fire fighters say increasing numbers of people are being put at risk with Clerkenwell covering 15 major housing estates including high rises.

Meanwhile numbers of people per hour travelling through Farringdon tube station is set to rise from 20,000 to 56,000 when Crossrail is completed.


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