‘Soho at risk’ as fire bosses take engine to train ‘private’ strike-busting team

The ‘West End Extra’ reports;

“FIRE cover in the West End has been halved for six weeks after one of the station’s two engines was removed by fire bosses to train a strike-busting team.

The Fire Brigades Union announced on Tuesday its members will walk-out for four hours later this month in protest at government plans to raise the retirement age.

The ballot for the industrial action – the first national strike in more than a decade – was announced in early August triggering a decision by the London Fire Brigade to remove the fire engine from Soho along with 26 others vehicles from across London, including Kensington and Lambeth.

The 27 engines – from a fleet of 169 in London – have been kept in a Territorial Army base in south west London where the Swedish security firm Securitas’s workers have been given a crash-course in fire cover.

Westminster Labour group leader Cllr Paul Dimoldenberg said: “Taking away one of Soho’s fire engines is totally irresponsible and leaves the West End without the capacity to deal with a major emergency. Halving Soho’s fire capacity for over a month also increases the everyday risks for residents, businesses and visitors.”

Crews from the station in Shaftesbury Avenue are often first on the scene if a fire breaks out in one of Soho’s many restaurants and they are familiar with the rabbit warren of streets that can complicate access for emergency services.

The LFB said it had a legal duty to provide fire cover during a strike and was “the right thing to do”. Bosses had written to the union asking when the strike was happening but were not told it would be six weeks before the industrial action or that it would last for just four hours.

Assembly Member Murad Qureshi pointed out that similar action had not been taken so far in advance elsewhere in the country, despite the strike affecting brigades nationwide.

He said: “It raises questions, given that they haven’t done the same nationally, why they are doing it in London. It seems to be as much to protect the interest of the private company covering the strike than anything else.”

In 2010, the LFB removed 27 fire engines ahead of a two-day strike in a row about changes to their working patterns. Earlier this month, the LFB’s Commissioner Ron Dobson said: “This dispute is between the FBU and government but, as the national strike may involve London, we have a legal responsibility to prepare for the possibility of strike action in September. This is not a decision I have taken lightly and I am not presuming the ballot will result in a Yes vote, but I need to ensure contingency plans are in place, which is why I’ve arranged for the temporary removal of 27 fire engines.”

A LFB spokesman said that Securitas would provide fire cover during the strike and would not “replace day-to-day fire cover”.

The FBU is opposing plans to increase the retirement age of firefighters to 60, claiming the public will be put at risk and that older workers could lose their jobs if they fail fitness tests.

Mayor of London Boris Johnson finally confirmed last week that Westminster fire station would close as part of a massive £43million cut to the capital’s service.”

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