Decades of deregulation and cuts have gutted London’s fire service, dramatically reducing its capacity to cope with large disasters and increasing response times. Thirteen fire engines and at least six stations have been shut down since 1987 (according to recent Fire Brigade Union figures), the year of the King’s Cross tube station fire, London’s worst in living memory before the Grenfell Tower inferno.
Years of austerity measures imposed since the 2008 financial crash mean that fire service funding has fallen by 30 percent nationally. Boris Johnson made enormous cuts to fire services across the capital during this period as Mayor of London, infamously telling protesting fire-fighters to “get stuffed” in 2013.
In addition to equipment shortages, many engines are inoperable due to crewing problems, with the loss of around 10,000 fire fighters jobs or one-in-six since 2010, according to the FBU. Staffing levels have fallen by more than half in some areas outside London. Pay freezes and the public sector pay cap have left fire fighters thousands of pounds worse off each year, forcing some to work second jobs to make ends meet.
One-quarter of fire safety specialist roles have been eliminated in just six years, according to a recent Guardian investigation. The number of specially-trained building inspectors has fallen to 680 today from 924 in 2011. The number of building safety audits has also fallen by 25 percent. This will heighten the risk of further catastrophic fires.
“Fire safety officers have been saying to me for years that one day there would be a big fire in a multiple occupancy building which would make everyone sit up and take notice of the lack of fire safety provision. Tragically, that’s what happened at Grenfell Tower,” fire-safety lawyer Warren Spencer told the Guardian.