In the first of a two-part interview FIRE talks to London Fire Brigade's Commissioner Ron Dobson about industrial relations and the response to the riots.


FIRE:What is London Fire Brigade's relationship like with the FBU following last year's industrial action?   

RD: There was an agreement on both sides to improve the relationship between the Brigade and the union after last year's disputes and we remain committed to improving our relationship with the FBU. However this does not mean a return to the days where the FBU believed they had a veto over any proposed change or initiative.


FIRE:How were the issues resolved to the satisfaction of everyone concerned, and how are industrial relations being taken forward?  

RD: By meaningful discussion a collective agreement over the new shift pattern was eventually reached between the Brigade and the union earlier this year. Firefighters started working the new shifts at the beginning of May.


FIRE:How effective was London Fire Brigade's response during the recent riots? 

RD: The period of civil unrest was one of the busiest periods ever faced by the Brigade and our staff showed nothing but dedication and absolute professionalism, especially given that our firefighters were battling, on average, one fire every nine minutes for five consecutive days. Our control staff also saw a huge number of calls. For four nights in a row between Saturday August 6 and Tuesday August 9 staff were handling, on average, one call every 48 seconds. Over four days, our staff handled more than 5,500 calls.

Despite how busy we were we had enough fire engines and firefighters to cope. Our response was excellent given the exceptionally difficult circumstances faced by our crews on the streets of London. I'd like to pay tribute to all our staff and the other emergency services, all of whom worked so hard to keep London safe during the civil disturbances.


FIRE:Given the rising levels of violence facing emergency responders, should firefighters receive bespoke training?  

RD: I am pleased to say that in comparison to other metropolitan fire authorities, instances of violence faced by operational staff in London are very low. Therefore, I'm not convinced, at this stage, that any special training in addition to what they already receive is needed.


FIRE:Did the disturbances cause you to review your community intervention initiatives or did they reinforce your current approach? 

RD: The disturbances didn't cause us to review our community safety initiatives but they certainly emphasised to us the importance of this kind of work.

We have made a firm commitment to continue to carry out successful community outreach schemes, such as our Local Intervention Fire Education (LIFE) programme which was set up in 2002. LIFE is an intensive five-day course that teaches young people between the ages of 13 and 17 firefighting skills alongside real firefighters. Since it started it has put the lives of over 5,000 young Londoners on the right track by improving their motivation, self-esteem, confidence and team building skills.


FIRE:Should such disturbances reoccur is there anything that could be done better in terms of emergency response? 

RD: Our staff performed admirably throughout this difficult period. As with any major incident we will review what went well and what areas could be improved upon. Londoners should be assured though, that should anything like this occur again in the future we will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the other emergency services and will again do our utmost to protect the people of London.


See next issue of FIRE for the rest of the interview.


Posted October 4th, 2011 at 1410 by Andrew. Comment by emailing: