The ability of fire crews to respond promptly and professionally to life threatening tower block fires is a postcode lottery, according to new research from the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), which represents the vast majority of UK firefighters.
Differing levels of resources around the country mean that the ‘pre-determined attendance’ (PDA) to a fire – the numbers of fire engines that should automatically be sent to a fire or other incident – varies greatly according to its location. For example, the PDA in Bedfordshire is just two fire engines and no aerial platforms at all – these are vehicles with long ladders or platforms to reach fires in high buildings – whereas Hampshire has a PDA of eight fire engines and an aerial vehicle.
Crewing levels can also vary between four or five firefighters per fire engine. Very worryingly, the new research shows that although there are 125 aerial ladder/platform vehicles in England, only 26% of them (33) are available 24/7 due to a lack of fire crews.
In a letter written to the Prime Minister today (Saturday 15 July) Matt Wrack, general secretary of the FBU and a former firefighter said ‘In the aftermath of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, we are aware that there are greatly differing standards and approaches adopted by different fire and rescue services across the country. We had hoped that one immediate response from central government would be to implement or establish an urgent review to ensure that the appropriate resources are available to firefighters attending such incidents in the future……this appears not to have been done, which causes us concern and alarm.’ Wrack praised the London Fire Brigade for amending its planning following Grenfell to ensure any call to a similar fire receives a response of five fire engines and an aerial high reach vehicle.
Commenting on the new research, Wrack said:
“These new findings are extremely concerning. In the light of the terrible tragedy at Grenfell Tower, this situation is utterly unacceptable. We find it staggering that nothing has been done to address this grossly unjust postcode lottery of resources, and the fact that governments in all parts of the UK appear not to have even considered it is a disgrace. They now need to urgently instruct fire services to improve their fire and rescue planning to ensure a full and professional response to such incidents all over the UK. Citizens everywhere need to feel safe and confident that those in authority are taking their safety seriously. Anything less is, frankly, obscene.”