'Those in power do not care'
Photo report by Peter Arkell
About 1,000 firefighters from all over the country descended on Westminster today (Wednesday 12 November) for a rally and a lobby of Parliament to protest at the deterioration of safety over the last 5 years during the “modernisation” of the service.
Since 2003 at least 22 firefighters have died while on duty, and during the single year ending in March 2008, the total was nine. The trend had been downwards before the turn of the century, with no recorded deaths between Februaruy1996 and October 2002.
The protest was called by the FBU to coincide the publication of a report commissioned by the union, and carried out by the Labour Research Department, into firefighter deaths since 1978. The objective of the report, In the Line of Duty, was to produce an accurate set of figures and trends for firefighter deaths over the past 30 years and to evaluate the causes in the context of the ongoing modernisation of the Fire and Rescue Service.
The report criticises the government for its lack of involvement with matters of safety, and calls on it to set up minimum standards of training in all aspects of fire safety. It also calls for an independent Fire and Rescue Service investigation unit to examine and draw lessons from particular incidents including fatalities, injuries and near misses.
“Many firefighters”, the report says, “are deeply unhappy with the training provided to prepare them for emergency response... The official neglect of records and the absence of national policy leave firefighters with the impression that those in power do not care, and that their safety is not regarded as important enough to warrant close attention.”
Speakers at the rally in Central Halls, Westminster, included John McDonnell MP, Frances O'Grady (Deputy General Secretary TUC), and Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary.
In the line of duty - FBU film