Select Committee on Office of the Deputy Prime Minister: Housing, Planning, Local Government and the Regions Written Evidence

Memorandum by the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) (SOC 25)

  It has been bought to my attention that the Select Committee on the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister is to hold an inquiry into the current work on community cohesion. This is an area of growing significance to the fire service, particularly in the light of the Government's modernisation agenda for the service and the inception of Integrated Risk Management Planning.

  Recent years have seen a gradual change in the priorities of the fire service. The previous concentration on reactive firefighting and rescue has given way to the realisation that proactive prevention is preferable and that the best way to extinguish a fire is to endeavour to prevent it happening in the first place.

  There are two major community safety issues facing the fire service nationally at this time. The first is fire safety in the home and reducing the number of accidental fires and the deaths, injuries, material losses and suffering that they cause. This is not part of the Select Committee's inquiry.

  The second is stemming and ultimately reducing the numbers of fires that are set deliberately, involving, rubbish, stolen and/or abandoned vehicles and empty property. Young people, especially young males who have become disaffected from society, commit many of these incidents of anti-social, if not criminal, behaviour. They believe that society has nothing to offer them and that they have nothing to offer society. In the worst, thankfully limited, instances this has manifested itself in verbal and sometimes physical attacks on firefighters responding to emergency calls (and these are sometimes hoax calls).

  In the recent past LFEPA would have looked to other agencies to address this behaviour. Now it is recognised that firefighters themselves are best placed to explain the potential consequences of such behaviour for the individual, their families and friends, firefighters and society as a whole. Firefighters can also provide positive role models, demonstrating that there is an alternative future, including the fire service as a potential career. For the fire service the hoped for benefits are a reduction in deliberate fires and the possibility of recruiting firefighters from minority communities that are either under-represented in its ranks at present or, in the worse case, not represented at all with all that implies for community relations.

  Enclosed with this letter is our submission giving details of two projects that we are running in the London Boroughs of Tower Hamlets and Hounslow. They are both pilots which it is anticipated will serve as templates for similar programmes in other London boroughs with problems resulting from the disengagement of young people from society. In these projects we work in close partnership with other interested agencies from both the public and voluntary sectors. This close collaborative working to reduce risk to the community goes to the heart of Integrated Risk Management Planning.

Ron Dobson

Acting Deputy Fire Commissioner for
Fire and Emergency Planning

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