Cuts will be deadly warn firefighters

PUBLISHED: 12:00 22 July 2010 | UPDATED: 18:06 25 August 2010

Planned cuts across the fire service will cost lives and leave stations in the borough under-manned, warn union members.

Planned cuts across the fire service will "cost lives" and leave stations in the borough under-manned, warn union members.

Bexley Fire Brigade Union representative, Steve Rawlinson, revealed the fears amid pivotal negotiations affecting more than 5,500 firefighters across the capital and the future of service provision.

London Fire Brigade commissioner, Ron Dobson, threatened to sack the entire workforce if key negotiations over working practices and changes to shifts patterns failed.

The plans, which were leaked to the FBU, include the introduction of 12-hour shifts during the day (currently 9am to 6pm), a reduction in night time appliance cover and measures to transfer cover between stations.

Agreement must be reached between bosses and the union before a July 31 deadline, or firefighters face having their contracts terminated, according to the union.

Steve Rawlinson, 53, a veteran with 26 years experience at Plumstead station, said: "Cuts in the number of appliances on call increases the risks to residents and to firefighters and will ultimately cost lives.

"We understand that night time cover in central London will be cut back, creating a knock-on effect for stations in Bexley and Greenwich. If there is a house fire in Peckham that we have to provide cover for, it leaves one of our stations without an appliance.

"Likewise, if there is a fire outside the borough, they would send say, one of Erith's two pumps, leaving it undermanned to tackle more than one incident."

He said that personnel at two-pump stations has dropped from 13 to 12 and the majority of stations used to have two appliances.Plumstead now has two, Woolwich one, Lee Green one, Eltham one, East Greenwich one and Greenwich one; while Bexley has one, Erith two and Sidcup two. Shooters Hill station has closed.

A mass meeting of the two borough's firefighters is set for August 4 at the Metrogas Club, in Avery Hill Road, to discuss the fall-out of key negotiations, made more edgy by the commissioner's threat to sack the workforce by blog.

"He's angered people and I feel sure they will take industrial action over it because they feel that he can't do this with 5,500 fire fighters," said Mr Rawlinson. "Increasing the day shift from nine to 12 hours will make life very difficult."

Lead FBU negotiator at Tuesday's crunch meeting, Ian Leahair, told the Times that the new proposals "will cost the lives of firefighters".

"Introducing 12-hour shifts with shorter rest periods will lead to greater fatigue," Mr Leahair said. "If we can't come to an agreement before the July 31 deadline and the brigade chief sticks to his promise of terminating contracts to issue new ones, there will be no option but to take strike action."

A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade said: "Plans to change firefighter start and finish times are still very much at the discussion stage."

She said firefighter contracts will not be terminated on the July 31 deadline, but if agreement is not reached with the union, the Brigade will begin "formal consultation" on proposals to change the working hours of fire fighters.


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