Ability to tackle tower block fires is a 'postcode lottery' says union

Picture: Fire Brigades Union
Picture: Fire Brigades Union

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.

Figures show that South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue has just two appliances with aerial ladder platforms to tackle fires breaking out in high-rise flats across the county.

The statistics were published in wake of the Grenfell tower fire in Kensington London which killed over 100 people.

South Yorkshire falls short of West Yorkshire with five, Devon & Somerset with six, Hampshire with eight and London with 11.

But South Yorkshire fire bosses stressed the number of aerial appliances is based on 'careful analysis of local risk'.

The new research shows that although there are 125 aerial ladder/platform vehicles in England, only 26 per cent are available 24/7 due to a 'lack of fire crews'.

The union said differing levels of resources around the country mean the ‘pre-determined attendance’ 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.

FBU general secretary Matt Wrack has penned a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May calling for an urgent review to ensure 'appropriate resources are available to firefighters attending such incidents in the future'.

He 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.”

A South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue service spokesperson said: “The number of aerial appliances we hold is based on a careful analysis of local risk, with only 3.2 per cent of house fires occurring in high-rise flats.

"In South Yorkshire, we are equipped with two turntable ladders and we always send aerial appliances to fires in high-rise buildings. However, it should be noted that the standard procedure for dealing with incidents in high rise accommodation is to fight the fire from the inside of the building.

“Our two aerial appliances have been in use simultaneously 0.14 per cent of the time and we have arrangements in place with neighbouring fire and rescue services to provide additional aerial support if needed.”

Full break down per fire authority

South Yorkshire 2

Cleveland 2

Durham 2

Northumberland 0

Tyne & Wear 3

Humberside 4

North Yorkshire 3

West Yorkshire 5

Cheshire 3

Cumbria 2

Greater Manchester 6

Lancashire 4

Merseyside 4

Derbyshire 2

Leicestershire 2

Lincolnshire 2

Northamptonshire 2

Nottinghamshire 2

Hereford and Worcester 2

Shropshire 2

Staffordshire 2

Warwickshire 2

West Midlands 4

Bedfordshire 2

Cambridgeshire 2

Essex 5

Hertfordshire 2

Norfolk 3

Suffolk 2

London 11

East Sussex 2

Kent 3

Surrey 2

West Sussex 2

Berkshire 1

Buckinghamshire 1

Hampshire 3

Isle of Wight 2

Oxfordshire 1

Avon 4

Cornwall 2

Devon and Somerset 6

Dorset and Wiltshire 4

Gloucestershire 2