A fire broke out at an industrial unit in London Road Staines at about 12:30am today (Sunday 28th July). Crews from Egham and Sunbury responded first to the reports of a building issuing smoke, according to the Surrey Fire and Rescue Service (SFRS) twitter page. They were later joined by crews from Esher, Feltham, Leatherhead, Langley, Slough, Dorking and Woking. Surrey Police also attended, and the A30 was reduced to one lane past the incident.
Paul Murphy, from Sunbury Fire station said:
“We attended a fire at an industrial premise in London Road, in Staines, which consisted of a printing works.
“When we arrived, it was quite difficult to access, and there were a couple of offices well alight at the back of the premises on the ground floor, which spread into the warehouse area where all the paperwork is kept.”
Crews gradually left from 5:45am, and by 9:00am all crews had gone. No injuries have been reported and Surrey Fire Investigation Officers are now on the scene.
“The service suffers from a shortage of firefighters”
What is particularly alarming about this incident is the fact that the one station unable to attend was also the closest. Staines Fire Station was closed for the night due to staff shortages.
Such issues have long been forewarned. Just two weeks ago a Staines Fire Station Facebook page claimed to highlight the “dire straits” that firefighters found themselves in, as it claimed that for the weekend of the 13th and 14th July fire stations across Surrey would be understaffed and posted staff rosters that appeared to show as much. In response, Surrey County Council said:
“This information is from an unofficial social media site and does not explain the whole picture across Surrey”.
The spokesman also said that there were plans in place to deal with emergencies across Surrey effectively.
However, this time last year, Staines Fire Station had to be “bailed out” by a London crew from Isleworth, while the Staines crew were dealing with a fire in Brooklands as there were no spare engines in the county. The day before that incident occurred, the entirety of the borough of Elmbridge was left without immediate cover as several stations closed, and the crew in Esher were sent to cover Chertsey.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services published a report in December last year and cited serious concerns saying:
“We have concerns about the performance of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure. In particular, we have serious concerns about the service’s effectiveness and efficiency. In view of these findings, we have been in regular contact with the chief fire officer, as we do not underestimate how much improvement is needed.”
And indeed, the report noted that “The service suffers from a shortage of firefighters to crew fire engines”.
In the wake of that report, Surrey County Council has carried out a consultation on how to transform the service. While we await the results of the consultation, it appears that the fact Staines Fire Station was closed is just another episode in the saga of staff shortages across SFRS. Something the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) echoed saying:
“Again this is another high-profile example of the ridiculous situation that Surrey Fire & Rescue Service (SFRS) finds itself in. The residents and businesses across Surrey continually have to bear the brunt of Surrey County Councils consistent failure to finance and resource a safe and suitable Fire and Rescue Service. They deserve better!”
According to the Union, it is a daily occurrence that fire stations are left “empty with NO crews due to frontline staff shortfalls”. The Union also believes that these pressures are reflected in other areas of the service, such as the Emergency Control Centre, where all 999 calls to the fire service are handled. According to the FBU, these staff shortages are the result of cuts to SFRS’ operating budget, not only that:
“…with another intended cut to the operational frontline staff from September this year, this ‘dire’ situation will only get worse.”
“7 whole-time fire engines are due to be completely removed during the night, therefore it WILL take longer for Firefighters to reach those that really need help. By SFRS’ own admission, the elderly and anyone with mobility issues WILL be primarily affected”
What is worth noting though, is the fact that despite the shortage, the plans in place to deal with emergencies were effective on this occasion and the firefighters of Surrey, London, and Berkshire all worked bravely and with dedication to get the fire under control.
Surrey County Council has been contacted for comment, but as yet has not responded.