One last look around Belsize Fire Station as 100-year-old base falls to City Hall cuts

Wednesday, 8th January 2014

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Published: 8 January, 2014
by TOM FOOT

A 100-year history of crucial public service comes to an end tomorrow (Thursday) when Belsize fire station closes for good.

The decision to shut and sell the Grade II-listed building follows a London Fire Brigade consultation that has been branded a “sham” by councillors.

It was triggered by a £28million annual cut to the budget by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson. It has led to the closure today of 10 fire stations across London and the axing of more than 500 posts.

Belsize firefighter Kieran Cashin said: “I feel like I have had my family taken away. I’ve seen guys who thought they might finish their careers here absolutely devastated. I’ve seen morale hit a low I didn’t think it could.”

The New Journal took a tour around the building, which was valued at £49million in 2007, on Monday.

With its rising chimneys and steep-pitched roof, it could easily be mistaken for another row of terraced cottages in Lancaster Grove. The decorative metalwork and crested guttering blend seamlessly into the surroundings, all part of a design specifically for firefighers by visionary council architects in 1912. The station opened on May 22, 1915. 

Inside, a snooker table in the games room was covered, library books boxed, gym equipment lying cold and more than a dozen single-bed dormitories empty.

Alerts come through on a ticker tape-style feeder in the call room triggering an alarm that sounds around the building. There is a wash room where apparatus and fire suits are cleaned. There is a four-storey training tower built for firefighters to practice using ladders and hoses on high buildings.

Firefighters have repeatedly warned that “someone is going to die because of the cuts” and raised concerns about the response to the Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead and other tall buildings.

Mr Cashin said: “Fire has behaved the same since the dawn of time. If we turn up later, it’s going to get bigger – it’s as simple as that.”

New showers have been fitted in some rooms just two years ago and the station was also recently repainted at a cost of £60,000. There is also a sitting tenant, a LFB staff member, who lives on the site. 

But Mr Cashin said the public reaction had been disappointing, adding: “It never felt like we could really get out into the public what they were doing. It is scandalous. They have been slowly told that we are people who are just moaning. When it comes to politics they say ‘oh that’s nothing to do with me’. Stop watching The X Factor, start get involved in doing something else.”

Proposals to change firefighters’ retirement age and cut pension plans have recently triggered a series of strikes by Fire Brigade Union.

On Monday, firefighters were taking a break to play Xbox computer games when the alarm sounded. Within a blink they were ready assembled, down the pole and out the door, blue lights flashing. The call was to a false fire alarm in a student block and no one was hurt. 

Labour’s community safety chief Cllr Abdul Hai said: “These cuts will lead to longer response times from the fire brigade and more importantly jeopardise the safety of Camden residents. Response times are critical to saving lives.”

A protest will be held outside the fire station this morning at 9.30am and firefighters are preparing for a ceremonial style send-off.

James Cleverley, who chairs the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said that the cuts would mean changes to the service but there would be no compulsory redundancies. “The firefighters based at the stations closing will now transfer to other stations and continue the excellent work they do to prevent fires, which is vital in changing the behaviours that start fires in the first place.”

He added that figures showed that the number of fires in London had fallen by 50 per cent in the last 10 years. 

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