Around 500 firefighters and supporters lobbied the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority on 21 January in protest at plans to close 12 fire stations and cut 520 firefighter jobs.
A noisy and vocal lobby heard FBU general secretary Matt Wrack calls for communities to “take over” their fire stations threatened with closure, while RMT general secretary Bob Crow and other speakers called for a general strike against the cuts.
A number of speakers pointed to recent fires where firefighters from stations threatened with closure saved lives after a quick response. Firefighters from Clapham fire station, one of the 12 under threat, arrived in four minutes to the helicopter crash in Vauxhall and rescued the driver of a burning car. The authority plan sets a six minute response target, which would have meant certain death at that incident.
Dave Lewis from Lakanal house tenants association, where firefighters rescued dozens from the tower block blaze three years ago, pointed out that Peckham fire station opposite stands to lose a fire appliance if these cuts go through. NUT executive member Martin Powell-Davies pointed out that people in Lewisham face losing two fire stations and their local A&E, and urged people to link the issues together in a common fightback.
The lobby had some immediate success. An amendment from Labour members, supported by Liberal Democrat and Green members was passed at the authority meeting, rejecting the parts of the draft Fifth London Safety Plan dealing with the fire station closures and firefighter job cuts. The decision now goes to mayor Boris Johnson.
However the threat has not gone away and the campaign is at a very early stage. Activists should organise support groups around threatened fire stations, drawing in FBU reps and local trades councils. These campaigns can then discuss supporting firefighters taking industrial action as well as plan direct action, stunts and other activities including occupations. A fight to defend fire stations can help galvanise other struggles to defend public services.