Following the fire in Dean Street on July 10, I wrote to the Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson in my capacity as a London Assembly representative on the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, asking for his comments on the concerns raised by constituents.
Press reports had indicated that the Soho fire station in Shaftsbury Avenue was unmanned when the fire broke out, with its appliances and firefighters away attending another fire. It had also been suggested that the computer system which calls in a standby fire engine from the nearest available station had been overridden, resulting in a delay in appliances arriving from the Euston and Knightsbridge fire stations.
The commissioner promptly wrote back to me with a detailed response to the points made. He confirms that the appliances from Soho fire station were attending two other incidents at the time the call was received to the fire at Dean Street – one at Covent Garden Underground station and another at the Carlton Club in St James’s Street.
As the commissioner points out, the situation can arise where the appliances and firefighters from a particular fire station are already attending a prior call at the time that a potentially more serious call comes in. However, because fire cover is provided strategically across London, rather than from the local station alone, when this is the case appliances are mobilised immediately from the nearest stations.
This is what happened in response to the Dean Street fire. Appliances from Knightsbridge and Euston were ordered to attend the fire as they were the closest available at the time. In addition one of Soho’s appliances did attend the fire at Dean Street later on when the incident commander requested additional resources.
The worrying claim that the mobilising computer at the Soho fire station was overridden have been investigated and the commissioner informs me that this was found not to be the case. The appliances from Knightsbridge and Euston were ordered to the Dean Street incident in the normal way without any delay.
I had been hoping to raise the Dean Street fire at the meeting of LFEPA on July 16.
However, quite understandably the Camberwell fire with its civilian fatalities dominated the proceedings. However, I hope that the concerns of residents and employees in the West End have been addressed.
The commissioner has assured me that in the Dean Street incident the first engine from Knightsbridge got there within six minutes and the second from Euston in less than eight.
I shall be asking LFEPA to examine the concentration of fire incidents in and around Dean Street.
Hopefully after investigation a safety plan can be drawn up that puts preventive measures in place, which hopefully will allow us to avoid the use of fire engines in the first place.
Published in the West End Extra, 21 August 2009