Firefighters working through the night to contain a major fire in residential apartments on Lammas Lane in Esher have said the blaze should act as a “serious warning” of the risk of fire cuts in the region.
The fire broke out before 14:30 Wednesday 10 June and required resources from London, West Sussex, and Berkshire to “bail out” Surrey crews.
The first turntable ladder arrived from Surrey, but the first higher-reaching aerial ladder platform (ALP) took 48 minutes to arrive from London and the second took 1 hour 12 minutes to arrive from Horsham in West Sussex, as Surrey’s ALP was not available to be deployed.
At least ten crews were required from London, including three ALP crews and a command unit, as well as two West Sussex crews and two Berkshire crews, who brought a Water Carrier.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service is undergoing more sweeping cuts, removing seven fire engines at night and cutting 70 firefighter posts. The first phase removed four fire engines in April, while a further three are due to be cut in October.
Firefighters voted in favour of a six-month industrial action short-of-strike campaign to fight the cuts, including an overtime ban, starting on 24 December 2019, but Surrey Fire Brigades Union (FBU) paused action so firefighters could assist their community through the coronavirus pandemic.
The FBU recently wrote to the Prime Minister demanding a moratorium on fire cuts, as firefighters take on more work to assist communities through the COVID-19 crisis.
Graham Whitfield, Surrey firefighter and FBU brigade chair, said:
“This shocking incident demonstrates the serious risk to life and property in Surrey from fire at a time when our fire service faces brutal cuts. Thankfully, no one was hurt but next time we might not be so lucky.
“Resources in Surrey are so slim that we now need to call on London and West Sussex to bail us out from fires like this. We’re in a pandemic so, thankfully, there is less traffic on the road, but in normal circumstances, it could take far longer for their resources to reach us.
“Surrey has already lost four fire engines at night and another three are due to be cut in October. This fire happened during the day but, had it been at night, the building would have been full of people asleep with even fewer resources available to rescue them. The term ‘close call’ doesn’t cut it.
“Conservative Councillor David Archer, a resident of one of these flats, did not support his local firefighters when they were campaigning against the cuts. We hope that he and other councillors can take this terrible incident as a serious warning. Cuts in this case almost cost lives.”
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“The cuts faced Surrey Fire and Rescue Service are nothing short of devastating and this fire in a residential building should ring alarm bells for local politicians.
“Under no circumstances is it acceptable for it to take this long for an aerial ladder platform to arrive at a fire due to cuts. Had this building been a high-rise with residents trapped inside, it could well have been fatal.”