Third of London fire engines out of action on Christmas Day due to Covid isolation

If anything as devastating as the Grenfell Tower fire had happened, a new 64-metre ladder appliance was unavailable on the night of December 24 and the day of December 25.

More a third of fire engines in London were out of action on Christmas Day as the number of firefighters forced to isolate due to Covid continues to rise.

There were 50 fire engines out of 142 (35 per cent) that were not able to run during the day shift on December 25, according to the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).

With the need for fire and rescue generally increasing between Bonfire Night and New Year’s Eve, many fear the “serious impact” on the capital.

But the FBU says that while the Omicron variant has forced firefighters to stay at home, Government cuts and a recruitment freeze is also to blame.

According to statistics released by the FBU, the majority of shifts from December 24 to 27 saw a shortage of at least 40 engines due to a lack of staff available to man them.

If anything as devastating as the Grenfell Tower fire had happened, a new 64-metre ladder appliance was unavailable on the night of December 24 and the day of December 25.

Covid has left 740 firefighters - more than 15% of the workforce - testing positive or otherwise having to self-isolate.

The FBU said this could get worse in the new year as a “mass exodus” of hundreds of staff leave ahead of pension changes.

Jon Lambe, FBU London regional secretary, said: “Omicron is directly affecting the level of fire and rescue cover Londoners receive.

“Over a third of fire engines being unavailable is a huge shortage that could have serious impacts.

“However, Omicron should not be having an effect on this scale – the reason it is is that London Fire Brigade has been left in a terrible state by years of government cuts, with almost one in five of London firefighters having been cut since 2010.

“At the start of the pandemic, our members in London helped in any way possible, volunteering to drive ambulances and working in multi-agency teams dealing with Covid-related fatalities.

“In some cases members spent weeks away from their loved ones for fear of transmitting the virus.

“But now the tables have turned and the London Fire Brigade itself is in real difficulty.

“Now, we are seeing the real impact of the pandemic on our own service and it’s reached a critical point.”

He added: “London and Londoners pay their taxes for a level of service and fire cover that they are being denied due to Governmental cuts and mismanagement.

“As a union, we are highlighting this because it’s simply not right and it’s not safe.”