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In this issue
Lost in Space
It's a hot July night and disco music is
thudding out of the downstairs bar at Booth's on Church Street. The place is crowded and
there are a lot of largish, fit-looking blokes talking loudly on the outside stairs
leading up from the patio. Inside the restaurant more are eating at a buffet and being
served drinks from a private bar. A scattering of women in smart dresses clutch their
glasses, chat to their friends and listen to pop music from a singer and a pianist. A
smaller man in a suit is the centre of attention as people come up to him, shake his hand
and pat him on the back. He looks slightly bewildered.
He believes firmly that his unit should be part of the local community and advocates 'pro-active' fire prevention through educating people about possible hazards rather than just responding to a fire. He doesn't need much prompting to run through a list of what should - and should not - be done: unplug the TV every night; buy smoke detectors (£5.00 from hardware stores); don't throw water over a blazing chip pan; keep stairs clear; if you have security gates over a door, the keys should be kept nearby, and so on. The fire station provides free advice on home fire prevention.
He commands a total staff of 53 people. There are as yet no women firefighters at Stoke Newington and only several members of ethnic minorities. But times are changing and he is keen to achieve the targets set by the London Fire Brigade. At the moment 1.1 per cent of uniformed staff in the capital are women and 4.3 per cent are from ethnic minorities. The targets are 5 per cent and 25 per cent by the year 2009. Most of the area ('ground') covered by the fire station is known as 'category B risk.' This means that one fire engine ('appliances' as they are known in the trade) should be at the scene of the fire within 5 minutes and a second within 8 minutes. Two appliances are sent to all property fires. The number of false alarms -1091 in the past year -seems very high but Ged McDonald points out that most of these are due to badly maintained warning systems rather than malicious calls. The station has two fire engines -Volvos -each costing £100,000 with the ability to pump 3900 litres of water per minute. There are four rotating watches (shifts); days from 9 am to 6 pm and nights from 6 pm to 9 am with 10 firefighters, a leading firefighter, one sub officer and one station officer on each watch.
In the year 2000/2001, Stoke Newington fire-fighters dealt with over 3000 incidents, including 665 fires and other calls ('shouts') of people stuck in lifts, collapsed in their locked flats or houses, and road accidents.
There were also around 500 calls to assist in other areas. Few local restaurants
were involved because, as Ged McDonald explains, the inspection and standards are
comparatively high in Stoke Newington. However, he emphasises the very real danger of
inconsiderate car parking, particularly on corners, blocking the way of the fire engines
racing to an incident. The narrower streets off the High Street are a serious problem.