The warnings come as the London Fire Brigade unveiled plans to close 12 fire stations across the capital to save Â£45million in the next two years.
Shutting Westminster fire station in Greycoat Place, Pimlico, will put extra strain on remaining Westminster stations in Harrow Road, Paddington, and Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, say critics.
In addition Belsize fire station, which is called upon as back-up for larger incidents in north Westminster, is also slated for closure under plans that will see 18 fire engines and around 400 firefighter jobs slashed from the brigade. Euston and West Hampstead stations, which also provide support, are not on the closure list, which will go out for public consultation before a final decision is made by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority in June. A three-month target has been set for the changes to come into effect.
Paul Embery, London secretary of the Fire Brigade Union (FBU), said: “These proposed cuts are dangerous and wrong. If they are implemented, they will undoubtedly jeopardise the safety of Londoners and firefighters alike.
“The London Fire Brigade now faces perhaps the biggest threat to its ability to function since the Second World War.”
The borough’s firefighters last year attended more than 5,200 false alarms ““ greater than anywhere else in the capital ““ more than 1,000 fires and more than 1,800 other incidents, making it one of the most testing boroughs in London.
Yet the brigade argues its proposals will not endanger lives. It says the average response time for the first engine to arrive at any fire in Westminster will rise by 42 seconds to 5m 50s, still within its six-minute target. Nearly 30 seconds will be added to the average time it takes a second engine to arrive, but it remains within the brigade’s eight minutes target.
But Mr Embury added: “Anyone who knows anything about firefighting knows that it isn’t just about the speed of response; the weight of response ““ ensuring that you have adequate resources to deal with developing and large-scale incidents ““ is just as crucial.
“These cuts would deplete the service and impair its ability to respond quickly and effectively to serious incidents.”
Murad Qureshi, a Labour Londonwide member of the London Assembly, called the cuts “reckless”.
The proposals come in light of a fall in the number of incidents over the last 10 years. In 2011, Westminster station firefighters answered 655 fewer calls than they did in 2001, a fall of 32 per cent. But Paddington station answered 2,124 fewer calls, a drop of 48 per cent, yet it remains off the closure list as the priority is keeping response times within target.
Ron Dobson, London Fire Brigade commissioner, said “significant changes” were needed to meet the money-saving targets. He said: “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 for first and second fire engines.
“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 these savings can be made while keeping London safe.”
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