Protest as 10 London fire stations shut down
Protesters opposed to the closure of 10 London fire stations have demonstrated outside one of them - the oldest operational fire station in London.
Clerkenwell fire station, dating back to the 1870s, and nine others, were closed earlier in a move by London Fire Brigade (LFB) to save £28.8m.
LFB said changes, including the loss of 552 firefighters, were "inevitable" but the service would not be affected.
But the Fire Brigades Union said the cuts would compromise public safety.'Sad, sad day'
'Small' act of defiance
Greg Edwards, part of Clerkenwell Fire Station's Red Watch for nearly seven years, packed up his things this morning and walked in his kit to report for duty at his new station, Islington.
"Normally you're supposed to put your kit in a kit bag," he said.
"But I thought maybe if one person wonders why I'm walking between two fire stations something will come of it.
"It's a small thing, but I don't think I'm meant to do it."
Paul Embery, regional secretary of the FBU, said firefighters leaving Clerkenwell later were told they could not wear uniform.
Union members, local politicians and residents held the protest at Clerkenwell.
Firefighter Alex Badcock, who had worked at the station for 29 years, broke down in tears and said: "It's a sad, sad day. Boris Johnson [London's Mayor] doesn't know what he's doing."
The Green Watch crew from Clerkenwell went out on its last callout at 06:05 GMT when it attended an incident in Oval Road, Regent's Park. A crew from Belsize, also closing, also attended.
Greg Edwards, a Fire Brigades Union (FBU) member, addressed the crowd outside after he left the fire station and lit a candle in honour of its 140-year history.
He said: "I just feel that it's a disgrace that they can shut a fire station so close to the City, the third busiest in London."
He said staff members had been clearing out lockers.
Gareth Beeton, an FBU regional official who formerly worked at Clerkenwell, said: "Emotions were running very high. The firefighters were noticeably upset. It's a family."
Emily Thornberry, Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury, said the fire station was essential for the densely populated area.
She said "People here are furious. If there were to be a terrorist outrage in the City of London, what is going to happen?
"We don't want to be in a position of 'I told you so'."
LFB said the cuts, which also include reducing the number of fire engines by 14, will not affect the service it provides because the number of fires has fallen by 50% over the last 10 years.'Blood on hands'
James Cleverly, chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority said: "If you dial 999 and need a fire engine, we still aim to have one with you within six minutes and a second, if needed, within eight.
What happens next?
- Signs will be removed
- Vandalism and squatting will be avoided with security costing £60,000 a year
- Fire stations will change hands in between six months to three years if planning permission is first needed
- Selling the stations will cost at most about £464,000 in various fees
- The money made should be about £50m
- Ideas for uses have included free schools.
"The brigade is faced with significant budget cuts, which mean that changes to the service are inevitable, and we are able to make those changes without compulsory redundancies."
People who worked in the stations that have closed will be moved to other locations. London will have 102 fire stations and 155 fire engines.
Speaking at Mayor's Question Time on 11 September, Mr Johnson said: "You have to make difficult decisions for the sake of good financial management and in order to have a proper modernised fire service which can continue its fantastic work of driving down the incidence of fire and death by fire."
Paul Embery, regional secretary of the FBU, said: "Mayor Boris Johnson will have blood on his hands.
"It will be only a matter of time before someone dies because a fire engine did not get to them in time.
"You cannot close 10 fire stations and slash nearly 600 firefighter jobs without compromising public safety."
The fire stations which closed are Belsize, Bow, Clerkenwell, Downham, Kingsland, Knightsbridge, Silvertown, Southwark, Westminster and Woolwich.
Seven London councils challenged the closures in the High Court last year, but they lost their case.
The cuts were part of the Fifth London Safety Plan.