FBU STATEMENT: DAGENHAM FIRE AND RECALL-TO-DUTY
To all London FBU branches
This message is from the FBU’s regional chair, Gordon Fielden, and is for the attention of all members.
FBU STATEMENT: DAGENHAM FIRE AND RECALL-TO-DUTY
As you know, last night saw a 20-pump fire (cylinders involved) at a scrap metal yard in Dagenham. First and foremost, I want to pay tribute, on behalf of the FBU, to our members who attended the incident and who worked extremely hard to bring the blaze under control. Even though the FBU strike commenced while many of them were still at the scene, our members did not withdraw from the incident until it was confirmed that there was no life risk. Only then did the structured handover to the private strike-breaking contractors take place. (Incidentally, we are aware that a number of members were threatened with disciplinary action by senior managers if they withdrew from the incident to join the strike. These threats were an abuse of authority, and the FBU will be pursuing this matter separately.)
The first call was received by the brigade at 1519 hours. Around three hours later – just minutes before FBU members were set to take strike action – the incident was declared a ‘major incident’ and the London Fire Brigade decided, without proper consultation or agreement with the FBU, to implement the recall-to-duty procedure, under which striking FBU members may voluntarily break a strike and return to work. Within minutes, reports of the recall began to appear on national media networks.
The actions of London Fire Brigade managers were deplorable and wrong – and represented a flagrant abuse of the recall-to-duty agreement.
As the recognised FBU official responsible for matters pertaining to recall-to-duty, I was very close to the events of last night and was in touch with London Fire Brigade managers. Indeed, I paid a visit to Dagenham while the incident was in progress and spoke to many of our members there.
I want to explain here why the brigade’s actions represented a breach of the recall agreement in a number of areas.
Firefighters will know that it is unheard of for a fire in a scrap metal yard to be declared a major incident. ‘Major incident’ is a clearly defined term for operational purposes and does not simply mean ‘large fire’. Major incident procedure and the associated Gold, Silver and Bronze command and control are implemented only in rare circumstances and, if not exclusively, then certainly usually where there is a serious risk to life, such as terrorist attacks, train crashes or serious and developing fires that involve a number of casualties.
In recent years there has been a significant number of fires which were larger and more serious than last night’s Dagenham fire, but where major incident procedure was not implemented.
Under the local recall-to-duty protocol between the FBU and LFB, the definition of major incident is similar to that set out in the London Emergency Services Liaison Panel (LESLP) Major Incident Procedure Manual and is as follows:
‘any emergency that requires the implementation of special arrangements by one or more of the emergency services and will generally include the involvement, either directly or indirectly, of large numbers of people. For example:
• The rescue and transportation of a large number of casualties;
• The large scale combined resources of Police, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service;
• The mobilisation and organisation of the emergency services and support services, for example local authority Borough surveyor, to ensure the safety of structures at the scene of operations.’
It is abundantly clear that last night’s scrap yard fire could not be considered a major incident under these criteria, meaning that any decision by the brigade to declare it a major incident represented a clear breach of the agreement.
While it is true that a number of police officers were in attendance, most were there simply to chaperone strike-breaking crews coming on to the incident, rather than for normal operational purposes such as traffic control. Further, there was no ‘large-scale’ (if any) deployment by the London Ambulance Service at the incident.
The FBU/LFB recall-to-duty protocol then goes on to say that, for the purposes of the agreement, any incident can only be deemed a ‘major incident’ if it has been declared as such by the LFB, not by other emergency services. See this paragraph:
‘As per the LESLP procedure any of the emergency services may define an incident as a major incident, but for the purposes of this protocol it solely covers incidents so described by the London Fire Brigade in accordance with the protocol set out below.’
However, it was made clear to me during conversations with managers last night that it was the police who declared the fire a ‘major incident’, not the LFB. (This fact was corroborated by a tweet from the fire minister, Brandon Lewis, this morning.) This, therefore, represented the second breach of the agreement. (The question of why the police, in a highly unusual move, decided to take it upon themselves to declare a major incident at a fire where they had very limited involvement and where the main responders were the London Fire Brigade will be raised by the FBU in due course.)
The recall-to-duty agreement also makes clear that the FBU must agree that the incident constitutes a ‘major incident’ before a recall can be initiated. The agreement states:
‘In the event of a major incident the decision to implement a recall procedure will be triggered by the commissioner’s group. A senior London regional FBU official [Gordon Fielden] will be immediately advised and provided with the reasons for the implementation of the procedure, once agreed with said official.’
Not only did we not agree that the incident fell within the above-mentioned criteria, we were not even properly consulted. As the nominated FBU official for these matters, I was only informed of the decision to recall after it had been initiated. An hour before this, I had sent a message to a senior manager explaining that I did not believe the incident constituted a ‘major incident’ as per the agreed definition, but plainly this message was ignored. Other senior FBU officials only became aware of the recall by hearing about it on Sky News.
This failure to consult with us and get our agreement represented the third breach of the recall agreement on the part of the brigade.
What is absolutely clear is that the incident in Dagenham would never, in normal circumstances, have been declared a major incident. The recall-to-duty agreement explicitly states that ‘no incident shall be regarded as a major incident unless it would have been regarded as such irrespective of the FBU strike action’.
The brigade’s actions last night were reprehensible and represented an abuse of the recall agreement and a breach of trust with the Fire Brigades Union. It is very difficult to see how the FBU in London can now remain a signatory to any recall-to-duty agreement in the future, and union officials will be having those urgent discussions over the coming days.
Members will draw their own conclusions about why the brigade, with the assistance of the police, decided to implement a recall-to-duty procedure just minutes before an FBU strike was about to start and for an incident which would never in normal circumstances have been declared a major incident.
I hope this explains matters. Members will be kept informed of developments.
Yours in unity
GORDON FIELDEN, REGIONAL CHAIR, LONDON FBU