Our Thin Red Line campaign leads to fire safety inquiry

Thursday, 8th September 2016 — By William McLennan

Choi Yip with neighbour Karl Kosmo

Choi Yip (right) with his neighbour Karl Kosmo

A PROBE into the Fire Brigade’s ability to “keep Londoners safe” has been launched at City Hall.

In a victory for the New Journal’s Thin Red Line investigation which called for closer analysis of fire service cuts, new London Mayor Sadiq Khan announced on Friday that there will be a review of fire station closures and the loss of engines and fire fighters.

His first public commitment to an inquiry of this kind was made to the New Journal last year, after we repeatedly highlighted concerns around the case of Choi Yip, a pensioner who jumped to his death from a burning flat in Camden Road on a day firefighters were stretched by a large fire in a parade in Finchley Road which burned for three days.

Mr Khan said at the beginning of his electoral campaign: “What you saw in Camden is a real source of concern – it seems to me that it’s not possible for firefighters to fight two fires at the same time.”

Announcing the review, which is to be led by Ken Livingstone’s former right-hand man, Anthony Mayer, Mr Khan said: “I want to be reassured that our Fire Brigade has the resources they need to respond in the event of a fire or a major emergency.”

Karl Kosmo, 80, Mr Yip’s neighbour, said: “This issue about fire safety is a top priority and Sadiq Khan has acknowledged that. I do hope that he takes into account all these tragedies that have taken place.”

Fire crews took more than double their six-minute target time to reach Mr Yip’s home on October 26. Former mayor Boris Johnson had closed 10 fire stations across London, and cut 14 engines and 552 firefighters, changes which came into effect in January 2014.

It was later revealed that the Mayor was planning to permanently axe 13 fire engines that had been taken out of service for use in the event of a strike. The New Journal understands the engines have not yet been disposed of, but are lying unused.

Mr Kosmo said: “They should be brought back and then all these fire men that have been dispensed with, I think at least some of them should be reinstated.

“My best friend and neighbour died because the firemen were waiting to come over but they didn’t have the engines. That was an unspeakable tragedy. The fire engines were not sold, they have just been wrapped up and put away. I don’t see the wisdom of it.”

Outgoing fire commissioner Ron Dobson was questioned over the impacts of the cuts at City Hall yesterday.

Labour Assembly Member Tom Copley said that 226 neighbourhoods across London can now expect fire crews to take longer than the six-minute target time, adding: “How can we ensure there is not a further increase with attendance times?”

Mr Dobson said that the brigade’s response times were calculated on a “London-wide level” and that moving to guaranteeing attendance levels to all areas would require a “significant increase in our resources,” adding: “We have modelled that and we think we would need another 73 fire stations and 104 fire engines, which I think probably is going to be unaffordable in the current climate.”

He said instead the London Fire Brigade would look at “redistributing” existing fire engines, adding: “Maybe some of them are not at the right station and if we can move it to another station some­where else in London we might be able to improve attendance times.”

London chairman of the Fire Brigades Union, Paul Embery, has regularly raised concerns over the impacts of cuts. He said the union will “contribute fully to the review,” adding:

“There is no question that recent cutbacks have made Londoners less safe. The tragedies linked to slowing response times in the capital during the past year must be the focus of this review.”

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