Almost a Third of London's Fire Engines Out of Action

Staff shortages due to Omicron hitting service hard

There are 142 fire engines in Lodnon

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 has resulted in “unprecedented” staff shortages, leaving almost a third of London’s fire engines out of action on some says this month.

According to London Fire Brigade statistics 40 fire engines were unavailable on both the day and night shift on 16 December, a level also reached for at least parts of the 10, 11 and 15 December. Rising case rates since these dates might indicate that the situation has not improved.

There is a total of 142 fire engines in London.

Covid has been skyrocketing in the service as the Omicron variant has taken hold in the capital, with almost 10% of operational firefighters either having tested positive or self-isolating, according to London Fire Brigade statistics for 16 December. 141 firefighters had tested positive and 283 were self-isolating.

The FBU claims that staff shortages due to Covid are having such a great impact due to the already low levels of fire and rescue staffing in the capital. It says that data shows that since 2010 London has lost almost one in five of its firefighters – just over 1,110 – and an operational firefighter recruitment freeze in the service has only just been lifted. Furthermore, the union is raising concerns that the levels of staffing could grow even worse, with a potential “mass exodus” of hundreds of staff ahead of pension changes in the new year.

FBU London regional secretary Jon Lambe said, “The new Omicron variant is having a devastating impact on the London Fire Brigade. But let’s be very clear – this should not be affecting London Fire Brigade the way it is, with almost a third of our fire engines unavailable. The reason that’s happening is firefighter numbers being too low, due to the devastating cuts imposed on the London Fire Brigade since 2010. London has lost one in five of its firefighters, ten fire stations and 27 fire appliances since 2010, and seen huge cuts as a result of austerity such as almost 10% of its budget since 2016.2

“Going forward the London Fire Brigade needs to urgently address savage cuts made by central government which seriously undermine the ability of the brigade to best protect London, Londoners and London's firefighters. We simply must not continue in this situation which is seeing nearly one in three fire engines unavailable.

“Firefighters have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic assisting other agencies. Now, firefighters themselves need assistance and to be given the safety they require – they need to be appropriately resourced and ‘backed up’ at all times.”

The last week has also seen high levels of shortage of Fire Rescue Units, with six of London’s fourteen of these units being off twice in the last week – almost half. Fire Rescue Units provide specialist capabilities for incidents including rescues from high structures, building collapses and hazardous materials incidents.

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December 29, 2021