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'Scrapping Poplar fire engine is vital in fight against terrorism' says London's top firefighter

PUBLISHED: 08:00 03 December 2015 | UPDATED: 13:23 11 December 2015

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson. Picture: Polly Hancock

Polly Hancock

The head of the fire brigade has defended plans to axe a Poplar fire engine, saying London will be less able to cope with a Paris-style terrorist attack if alternative cost-cutting proposals are pursued.

Fire commissioner Ron Dobson said his plans to scrap 13 engines, including one from Poplar, and save £11million each year are the best way to keep Londoners safe.

But alternative plans to fill an £8.1million black hole in the brigade’s budget next year are also being considered.

These involve introducing “alternate crewing” – where one team of firefighters is responsible for manning a standard fire engine and a specialist fire rescue unit.

Mr Dobson, who oversaw the brigade’s response to the London 7/7 bombings, said: “My worry with alternate crewing is that the crews that I would like to provide our response (to a Paris-style attack) would be from fire rescue units and if they were alternate crewed then, potentially, if the pump attached to the station has been mobilised first then we wouldn’t be able to send the specialist crew to attend until the other engine comes back.”

Asked if alternate crewing would leave the brigade less able to deal with a terror incident, he said: “Potentially, yes. If those units are alternate crewed it would undermine our ability to respond.”

The brigade has been asked to shave £13.2million from its budget next year and has already identified £5.1million of cuts that do not affect the frontline, leaving an £8.1million black hole.

The commissioner has put two forward proposals that include axing 13 engines which have been kept in storage for the last two years for use during strike action.

But the chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority’s (LFEPA) resources committee, Andrew Dismore, has tabled a third option to find savings through alternate crewing and return the engines to use.

“The 13 engines that we’re talking about have actually been away from the frontline for two years,” said the commissioner. “During that time we’ve managed to continue to achieve our fire attendance time targets at a brigade level and in the majority of boroughs.

“Given that the number of fires in London has continued to fall quite significantly during that period, my conclusion is the best way to balance our budget is not to replace these fire engines into service but to take the savings.”

Both options will now be put out to public consultation lasting eight weeks.

Four meetings will be held across London and, for the first time, the brigade will organise online public meetings.

London Assembly Member Gareth Bacon, chairman of London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, said: “If you want your voice heard I urge everyone to visit our website and tell us what they think.”

To take part in the consultation click here

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