THERE was universal sadness and fears for the future expressed at vigils held at Downham and Woolwich fire stations this morning (January 9) as fire crews made their final exit.
Both fire stations have been axed under the Mayor of London’s Fifth London Safety Plan (FLSP) which aims to save £29million by closing 10 stations across the capital and cutting 552 firefighters’ jobs.
There were cheers for the seven green watch firefighters each based at Downham and Woolwich as they finished their night shift and made their symbolic exit in fire engines at 9.30am when the stations closed.
Built in 1887, Woolwich’s Grade II listed building - where horses used to pull the engines and crews used to climb a watch tower to spy fires in the area -was the second oldest operational fire station in London.
MP for Woolwich and Greenwich Nick Raynsford said: “The feeling is one of sadness.
"There is an obvious concern that this will reduce the capacity of fire and rescue services to respond quickly in an emergency.
“The London Fire Brigade has a very good record of quick response but the traffic concentrations around here are very challenging.
“I have made very strong representations to the LFEPA and I am very sorry that the Mayor has disregarded those concerns.
“I only hope this doesn’t have serious and sad consequences.”
While Labour councillor for Woolwich Riverside ward, Councillor John Fahy, said: “It is a very sad day for us all.”
“I think it is clear that all the evidence submitted to the Mayor’s office about putting lives at risk has been totally ignored.
“Sadly Boris’ view is, as always, more to do with saving money than saving lives.
“They are a very dedicated crew that have served the people very well.”
There were 28 firefighters based at both Woolwich station, in Sunbury Road, and Downham, in Reigate Road. No redundancies were made and firefighters will take up posts in other stations.
Woolwich station manager Adam Carter said: “Personally, I have been at Woolwich for 10 years. It’s been a wonderful time. It is a fantastic community.
“In that respect it is a sad day. But positively, the engine is moving to East Greenwich and the community will continue to benefit from it.”
Resident Justus Laryea, who lives on Sunbury Street , 65 said: “They should leave it for us because we love them. We are happy they are there. They are nice people as well.”
Jean Vecchi, 80, who lost her six-year-old daughter in a house fire, has campaigned to save Downham fire station four times and says residents are “devastated” by the loss of the station.
The great-grandmother-of-seven, who lives in Reigate Road, said: “We are all feeling dreadful. We just feel it should be there. I think it means a lot more worry because fire engines have further to go. It doesn’t just cover Downham, but Mottingham, Lee, Catford, Bromley, Beckenham, Bellingham.
“It isn’t just deaths in fires, it is the devastation it causes and nobody can describe how they feel about losing their property.”
A firefighter based at Downham, who did not wish to be named, voiced fears for residents’ safety in the area. He said: “Some of us have been here for 13 to 14 years.
“We are all scattered to the four winds - thank you Mr Johnson.
“We are concerned but there is not a lot we can do.
“At the end of the day, we have still got jobs to go to. It is the residents who are going to lose out.”
More than 4,000 residents signed a petition against the closure of the station - which was last saved in 1992 and completely rebuilt – and was handed in to City Hall by the Lib Dems last January.
Lib Dem councilor for Downham ward, Cllr Julia Fletcher, said: “Obviously we are very sad that it is happening despite the campaign.
“I think people are very upset that Boris has chosen to persist despite the strength of feeling about the closure because I think people value having a fire station close by.
“We are just very sad it is going ahead.
“I am concerned because the statistics show that fires are more likely in more disadvantaged areas and Downham has the lowest average income in any ward in the borough.”
She added: “The buck stops with Boris if anything goes wrong in the future in our area.”
Lewisham and Greenwich councils were involved in an unsuccessful judicial review of seven councils to challenge the FLSP last month (December).
The Fire Brigade Union’s regional secretary for London, Paul Embery, said: “Boris Johnson will have blood on his hands. It will be only a matter of time before someone dies because a fire engine did not get to them in time.
“You cannot close ten fire stations and slash nearly 600 firefighter jobs without compromising public safety.
“I would say it is one of the saddest days in the history of the London Fire Brigade. Not even the Luftwaffe could inflict the damage on the fire brigade that Boris Johnson has done.”
LFEPA Chairman, James Cleverly, said: “Londoners will continue to receive one of the fastest emergency response times in the world from the London Fire Brigade.
"If you dial 999 and need a fire engine, we still aim to have one with you within six minutes and a second, if needed, within eight.
“The brigade is faced with significant budget cuts which mean that changes to the service are inevitable and we’re are able to make those changes without compulsory redundancies.
"The firefighters based at the stations closing will now transfer to other stations and continue the excellent work they do to prevent fires, which is vital in changing the behaviours that start fires in the first place.”