Fire engines forced off roads as Omicron causes brigade staff shortages

·3-min read
Fire engines on a call out in east London (PA)
Fire engines on a call out in east London (PA)

Almost a third of London fire engines have been taken out of action this week as Omicron causes “unprecedented” staff shortages.

The number of fire crews has dwindled as the new Covid variant rips through the working population in the capital.

According to London Fire Brigade statistics 40 fire engines were unavailable on both the day and night shift on Thursday.

There are 142 fire engines in London but with 283 London firefighters self isolating many engines have remained in their garages.

Around 10 per cent of frontline fire staff are now either having tested positive or self-isolating, according to London Fire Brigade statistics.

The figures showed 141 firefighters had tested positive and 283 were self-isolating.

Fire Brigade Union 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 per cent of its budget since 2016.

“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 14 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.

Deputy Commissioner of the London Fire Brigade Richard Mills, said: “Throughout the pandemic we have consistently met our attendance targets. These are to get the first fire engine to an incident within a London-wide average of six minutes and a second fire engine within a London-wide average of eight minutes.

“Like all other emergency services we have faced staffing challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We continue to face these challenges as new variants are found and restrictions are updated and changed. We follow the relevant Government guidance closely to keep our staff safe.

“Our fire cover is planned on a London-wide basis. If staff or fire engines at a particular station are unavailable for any reason, we move them from elsewhere to provide cover. This happens daily as crews deal with emergencies, carry out community safety work or train away from their station.”

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