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Firefighters' union slams closure of Belsize fire station as 'literally playing with fire'

PUBLISHED: 10:00 17 January 2013 | UPDATED: 10:54 17 January 2013

Belsize Fire station is earmarked for closure. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Belsize Fire station is earmarked for closure. Picture: Nigel Sutton

© Nigel Sutton email pictures@nigelsuttonphotography.com

The London Fire Brigade has admitted response times will increase under its proposals to close Belsize fire station.

Fire response times

* Current response times across Camden:

First engine on scene: 4.41mins, Second engine: 6mins

* Under new proposals:

First engine on scene: 5.26mins, Second engine: 6.2mins

* London-wide target:

First engine on scene: 6mins, Second engine: 8mins

Belsize Fire Station is one of 12 across the capital destined for closure under plans by London Fire Brigade to save £28.2million over the next two years.

The loss of the 1915 station in Lancaster Grove would leave just five fire engines in the borough. Last year 32 per cent of Camden call-outs were dealt with by teams outside of the area.

Camden firefighters claim the closure would put people’s lives at risk, as they would be relying on fire stations in Brent and Islington during busy periods.

The 28-strong team based at the Grade II-listed building is called to an average of 164 fires ever year.

If the closure is approved, call-out times across the borough for the first fire engine on scene will increase by 45 seconds, according to London Fire Brigade (LFB) figures.

But the new response times would still fall within London-wide targets.

Ben Sprung, regional officer for the Fire Brigades’ Union (FBU) said: “It’s going to take us longer to get to fires and the difference between big and small fires is speed.

“They are playing games with statistics and literally playing with fire.”

Camden will be left with two fire engines at both Kentish Town and West Hampstead fire stations and another engine at the LFB’s Euston base.

Fireman Kieron Cashin, 38, based at Belsize, said: “We’ve been a part of the community and protecting it since 1915.

“We’re worried about the local people and fire cover.

‘‘If they close Belsize Fire Station, it’s going to up attendance time.”

Mr Sprung, a fireman at Kentish Town fire station, is calling on the public to rally behind firefighters and join a march outside the LFB’s headquarters in Union Street, Southwark, on Monday (January 21).

Firefighters are not planning to strike, but will not rule out industrial action further down the line.

The other stations set for closure are Bow, Clapham, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, New Cross, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich.

If approved, following a consultation, the proposed changes would be implemented from this autumn.

LFB say these changes would result in the loss of 520 front line firefighter jobs if agreed.

The LFB claim the plans have been designed to modernise London’s network of fire stations so that fire engines are located where they are most needed, rather than being situated based on historical factors.

The brigade says central London still has more fire stations than outer London “partly because it used to be far more densely populated before people moved out to the suburbs”.

Other parts of London have a relatively high number of fire stations due to the types of buildings that used to be there, like docks or factories, says the LFB.

Ron Dobson, commissioner of the LFB, said: “Like virtually every other public service, the brigade needs to make savings.

“In the last four years, we have cut £52million without reducing frontline services.

“Additional savings cannot be found without making significant changes to how we keep London safe.

“In the last decade, demand for the brigade’s service has changed dramatically and it’s time to reflect that in how our fire stations, engines and staff are organised.

“Having spent 33 years as a firefighter serving the capital I know how important it is to respond to incidents as quickly as possible and I have every intention of maintaining our current response time targets.

“With all the work we do to prevent fires happening – and response times that are still amongst the best in the country – I am confident that these savings can be made while keeping London safe.”

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