More than a THIRD of London’s 142 fire engines were out of action on Christmas Day due to lack of staff as union blames Covid, a recruitment freeze and government cuts

  • 50 out of 142 vehicles were unable to run during the day shift on December 25
  • The need for fire and rescue generally increases between Bonfire Night and NYE
  • As a result, many fear the shortage could have a ‘serious impact’ on the capital 

More than a third of London’s fire engines were out of action on Christmas Day due to a lack of staff. 

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).

The union blames a combination of rising Covid cases, a recruitment freeze and government cuts for the shortfall.

And 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. 

More than a third of London’s fire engines were out of action on Christmas Day due to a lack of staff. Pictured: Islington Fire Station

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 per cent 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.’

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)

It comes as there were fresh calls today from Britain’s hospitality chiefs to cut the Covid self-isolation period to five days because they have ‘nobody left’ to serve customers due to the spread of Omicron. 

Marcello Distefano, managing director of the San Carlo Italian restaurant chain, admits he will have to close several of their 23 restaurants due to staff shortages with staffing levels for New Year’s Eve still touch and go.

On pleas to cut the isolation time to five days, he said: ‘It’s going to help. But it doesn’t change the fact that we are having to move people around just to keep restaurants open. We literally have nobody left, so either way we’ll have to close several restaurants’. 

He said: ‘We are having to reduce the capacity of restaurants because we just don’t have the staff to service demand. We’re also having to reduce menus because we don’t have the staff to produce what we normally need. 

‘The spread of the virus in the last seven to ten days, we’ve seen a huge upsurge in the number of people having to be off work.

‘Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve and we are taking it day by day to see if we can remain open. We will have to close several of our restaurants next week’. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, he said that a bumper Christmas failed to materialise due to gloomy warnings from the Government.

‘We were nowhere near the Christmas sales we would have hoped for’, he said, saying that he had hoped takings would double in the weeks before Christmas Day.

But the UK Government has insisted that there are ‘no further changes’ planned on reducing quarantine periods – after they were dropped from ten to seven days with a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven – although officials also said that the rules would be kept ‘under review’.

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