LFB logo 180Improvements to radio communications, equipment, training with partner agencies, mobilising over the past 10 years mean firefighters are "better equipped than ever to deal with another 7/7" according to London Fire Brigade Commissioner Ron Dobson.

Speaking ahead of the 10th anniversary of the UK's first ever suicide attack, which claimed the lives of 52 people, Commissioner Dobson suggested that changes since mean that firefighters now have a greater amount of discretion to act outside standard procedures, where this is necessary and justifiable - such as large-scale terrorist incidents.

Commissioner Dobson, who was the Brigade’s Gold Commander on 7/7, said: "As a Brigade we will take time to remember the 52 lives that were lost, including a member of our staff but also the incredible acts of bravery by firefighters and other emergency service colleagues.

"I’m incredibly proud of our firefighters and control room staff who dealt with the traumatic incidents on the 7 July 2005. They went above and beyond the call of duty. It wasn’t just the first responders who showed strength and courage that day, London as a city pulled together and over the years, lots of stories have surfaced about members of the public helping the injured and distressed.

"I also want to take the time to reflect on how as an organisation we have changed in ten years. The Brigade prides itself on its resilience and its ability to adapt. We reviewed our response and procedures on the day and over time made changes to our equipment, training and policies.

"As a result, I feel proud to say that the Brigade is more equipped and prepared than ever to deal with a major incident in the capital. The improvements we have made are a testament to all of our staff who worked on that day and cements our reputation as the best fire and rescue service in the world."

On 6 May 2011 Lady Justice Hallett, delivered her verdict and recommendations, following the Inquests into the deaths of 52 people killed on 7 July 2005. Although none of Lady Justice Hallett’s nine recommendations as part of her Rule 43 report were specifically directed at the Brigade, a series of major changes have been since, as outlined below:

Radio communications
The bombings on the 7 July highlighted issues of radio traffic between agencies and the ability to communicate from some of the deeper tunnels to officers on the ground. By February 2007 all firefighters were given a personal hand-held radio with multiple radio channels and a dedicated channel for firefighters to share information and updates with each other throughout an incident. The Brigade has doubled the number of radios that can operate in potentially explosive atmospheres. Working with Transport for London as part of their Connect programme, the Brigade can now communicate across the tube network including in tunnels between stations. Further improvements to the digital radio network in the London Underground allows for a greater number of simultaneous radio transmissions to take place.

Training with partners
The inquest mentioned that there was some confusion and lack of clear communication at the incidents between the emergencies services. Significant improvements to the way the Brigade works with colleagues in the emergency services and other agencies have been introduced and refined in recent years, increasing understanding and awareness of the roles, responsibilities, procedures and training of the various services. This includes the role out of a national Joint Emergency Services Inter-operability Programme designed to ensure all emergency services work effectively together when attending a major incident. In 2000 London Fire Brigade introduced the role of inter agency liaison officers (ILOs). These officers work with the police, ambulance service, the NHS and the military, acting as tactical advisors to develop incident plans and response arrangements at incidents involving terrorism, firearms, public disorder and natural disasters. The ILO role has been so successful that National inter agency liaison officers (NILOs) are now found in every Fire Rescue Service across the country.

The ability to get first aid as soon as possible to those that needed it was raised as a concern. Every fire engine in London is now equipped with a greater range and enhanced first aid equipment, including defibrillators, and all firefighters are now trained to deliver a higher level of first aid. This equipment is used when fire crews are the first emergency service on the scene or where firefighters work alongside paramedics at incidents, especially where victims cannot be easily reached. It will mean that casualties, particularly at the scene of a fire, can receive life-saving first aid at the earliest opportunity and this means the injured will have a better chance of survival. The training was developed in partnership with the London Ambulance Service and includes oxygen administration, defibrillation, inserting airways and fitting cervical collars.

The Brigade’s fire rescue units (FRUs) are crewed by staff specially trained and equipped to handle complex rescues, including rescues from road and rail accidents, water, mud and ice, urban search and rescue incidents (such as collapsed buildings), chemical spills and for difficult rescues from height, when specialist rope and line equipment is used to bring people safety to the ground. A further six FRUs were introduced in 2007 and the Brigade currently has 14 in it’s fleet. A specialist team was created in November 2005 to improve the Brigade’s response to incidents where chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials are suspected or confirmed. The team has been specially trained to operate equipment which can detect, identify and monitor potentially harmful CBRN and other hazardous materials and supports fire crews at a range of incidents.

Issues arose at locating exactly what London Underground stations to send our fire crews to on the day of the attack. Since then the introduction of the Unique Reference Number (URN) system by London Underground gives our mobilising staff in Brigade Control the exact location of an incident including those occurring in tunnels. This enables the Brigade to send resources to the correct location where they are most needed.

Operational Discretion
The Brigade have devised an operational risk assessment process which enables those in command at an incident to make appropriate use of their professional judgement in circumstances where standard operating procedures might inhibit firefighters from achieving what is required at the scene. Firefighter safety is a paramount so working outside of standard protocols requires a clear justification, risk assessment, control measures and a decision log.

To find out more about the evolution of LFB since 7/7, check out our July/August edition of FIRE Magazine as well www.london-fire.gov.uk