Commissioner urges public to ‘protect themselves from fire’ as station closures planned

LFB Commissioner Ron Dobson speaking at the meeting. Picture: Polly Hancock

LFB Commissioner Ron Dobson speaking at the meeting. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The London Fire Brigade chief has urged people to “protect themselves from fire” - and admitted response times will increase in Camden.

London fire commissioner Ron Dobson insisted it was important for people to take measures to “protect themselves from fire with smoke alarms and by knowing their escape routes” at a public meeting last Thursday.

Residents and councillors protested against the plans at the meeting at the London Irish Centre in Camden Square, Camden Town.

Camden Council leader, Cllr Sarah Hayward, said the plans to slash £45million from the force’s budget were a “cut too far” and that Mayor of London Boris Johnson should be doing “everything he could to stop it from going ahead”.

Mr Dobson said he understood most people attending the meeting had come to discuss the impending closure of Belsize fire station.

But he urged the crowd to also have their say about other aspects of the proposed changes under the Fire Safety Plan, which include the closure of 12 fire stations across London.

He said: “There will be increased attendance times in some wards but we we are trying to be proactive in other ways to decrease the risk of fire in the first place.”

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Figures have shown that Camden will be more severely affected by the fire cuts than any other borough in the capital.

Residents of Belsize will see their average wait for a fire engine rise by an extra three minutes and 22 seconds – up to seven minutes, 59 seconds. Hampstead Town and Swiss Cottage also see significant increases.

Mr Dobson said the average attendance time of the first fire engine to reach an incident under the proposed cuts would increase by 45 seconds to 5.25 minutes for the borough as a whole.

This is the biggest rise of any London borough, but the time remains under the fire brigade’s target response time of six minutes. The attendance time of a second fire engine would increase by 26 seconds to 6.26 minutes.

Mr Dobson said the brigade issues free smoke alarms and conducts fire safety events across the borough to ensure people know their escape routes.

Several residents and councillors, including Gospel Oak councillor Maeve McCormick and Cllr Hayward, voiced concerns that people who live in high-rise buildings will be worst hit by the slower attendance times.

Mr Dobson said: “If you live in a high-rise building, you are not at a greater risk of fire. They are built to withstand fire until the fire brigade get there.”

The cuts are part of a safety plan to close 12 fire stations, decomission 18 fire engines and lose 520 firefighter posts across the capital. However the brigade is not making any compulsory redundancies.

Cllr Hayward referred to Clerkenwell station, also due for closure, as the borough’s second station - as half of all incidents attended to by Clerkenwell are in Camden.

Speaking after the meeting, Mr Dobson said: “Closing fire stations is always going to be a concern for local residents.

“But it’s very important many more people try to protect themselves from fire with smoke alarms and by knowing their escape routes.”