The Fire Authority's Performance Management and Community Safety Panel met yesterday afternoon. Interesting reports concerning trends and risks often get an airing here. There were a couple of 'burning issues' this time:
Weather and Risk
Some of this seems like common sense, but extreme weather conditions do lead to a rise in incidents for the brigade to attend:
Extreme cold causes frozen pipes to burst or overflow, leading to an increase of flooding incidents.
High temperatures can cause lifts to break down, leading to a larger number of calls to people trapped in lifts.
Hot, dry periods lead to an increase in open land fires, particularly a problem in outer London.
Strong winds, most often experienced in the autumn, lead to more calls to make safe damaged buildings and structures.
Storms with heavy rainfall cause unpredictable cases of localised flooding, usually as a result of inadequate drainage.
And of course some occasions and events cause a peak in call outs. The most obvious is bonfire night, and where this falls in the middle of the week - like this year - the incidents occur on adjacent Saturday nights as well.
The Brigade operates two fireboats from a floating fire station at Lambeth. The boats are slower than those used by other emergency services but they have fire fighting pumps and a shallow hull which allows them to operate right up to the river bank. They work closely with the police, RNLI and Port of London Authority rescue boats.
Last year the fireboats attended 49 fires and 53 false alarms but the majority of their work - 164 callouts - was classified as 'special services', in effect rescues which don't involve fires. Special services include sinking or drifting boats, cars in the river, people falling in the river or trapped in the tidal mud, people threatening to jump from bridges and - sadly - the retrieval of bodies from the water.
At one time the fireboats had to deal with industrial and warehouse fires but with the transformation of the river banks and the growth of residential properties, the fire threat has receded. Most of the new properties are accessible by land and fire engines can often reach them more swiftly than the boats.
Nevertheless, the fireboats and their crews still play an essential part in keeping the Thames safe.