London Fire Brigade

London’s firefighters more equipped than ever to deal with another 7/7

23 June 2015

London Fire Commissioner says that firefighters are better equipped than ever to deal with another 7/7 as the Brigade reflects on the changes it has made 10 years on.

The Brigade have made a number of improvements to radio communications, equipment, training with partner agencies, mobilising and has given firefighters a greater amount of discretion to act outside standard procedures, where this is necessary and justifiable.

All of these improvements help firefighters at any emergency and especially when faced with a large scale incident like those that happened on 7 July 2005.

London Fire Commissioner Ron Dobson who was the Brigade's Gold Commander on 7/7 said: "As a Brigade we will take time to remember the 52 lives that were lost, including a member of our staff but also the incredible acts of bravery by firefighters and other emergency service colleagues.

"I'm incredibly proud of our firefighters and control room staff who dealt with the traumatic incidents on the 7 July 2005.

"They went above and beyond the call of duty. It wasn’t just the first responders who showed strength and courage that day, London as a city pulled together and over the years, lots of stories have surfaced about members of the public helping the injured and distressed.

"I also want to take the time to reflect on how as an organisation we have changed in ten years. The Brigade prides itself on its resilience and its ability to adapt.

"We reviewed our response and procedures on the day and over time made changes to our equipment, training and policies.

"As a result, I feel proud to say that the Brigade is more equipped and prepared than ever to deal with a major incident in the capital.

"The improvements we have made are a testament to all of our staff who worked on that day and cements our reputation as the best fire and rescue service in the world."

On 6 May 2011, Lady Justice Hallett, delivered her verdict and recommendations, following the Inquests into the deaths of 52 people killed on 7 July 2005.

Although none of Lady Justice Hallett's nine recommendations as part of her Rule 43 report were specifically directed at the Brigade, we have worked with our partners in London ensuring that the public and firefighters are safer than ever.

Radio communications

The bombings on the 7 July highlighted issues of radio traffic between agencies and the ability to communicate from some of the deeper tunnels to officers on the ground.

By February 2007, all firefighters were given a personal hand-held radio with multiple radio channels and a dedicated channel for firefighters to share information and updates with each other throughout an incident.

The Brigade has doubled the number of radios that can operate in potentially explosive atmospheres.

The analogue radio system previously fitted to fire engines has been replaced by a modern digital system which is compatible with radios across the blue light services.

In 2013, a review of all the digital radio channels programmed meant that all fire and rescue services across the UK have the same capabilities.

It also meant that the Brigade has a greater ability to talk with other agencies that can  be involved in emergency response, such as the RNLI when responding to any emergency on the River Thames.  

Working with Transport for London as part of their Connect programme, the Brigade can now communicate across the tube network including in tunnels between stations.

Further improvements to the digital radio network in the London Underground allows for a greater number of simultaneous radio transmissions to take place.

Training with partners

The inquest mentioned that there was some confusion and lack of clear communication at the incidents between the emergencies services.

Significant improvements to the way the Brigade works with colleagues in the emergency services and other agencies have been introduced and refined in recent years, increasing understanding and awareness of the roles, responsibilities, procedures and training of the various services.

This includes the role out of a national Joint Emergency Services Inter-operability Programme designed to ensure all emergency services work effectively together when attending a major incident.

In 2000 London Fire Brigade introduced the role of inter agency liaison officers (ILOs). These officers work with  the police, ambulance service, the NHS and the military, acting as tactical advisors to develop incident plans and response arrangements at incidents involving terrorism, firearms, public disorder and natural disasters.

The ILO role has been so successful that National inter agency liaison officers (NILOs) are now found in every Fire Rescue Service across the country.

The Brigade has increased the number of multi-agency training exercises since 2005 and this was especially important during London Olympic and Paralympic Games and beyond.

In April 2014, the Brigade hosted one of the largest and most comprehensive multi-agency exercises in its history. Over 220 emergency service personnel took take part, including specialist Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) teams from London and across the country, the Metropolitan Police Service, and London Ambulance Service.

Two similar scale exercises are planned in the next 12 months.

Equipment

The ability to get first aid as soon as possible to those that needed it was raised as a concern.

Every fire engine in London is now equipped with a greater range and enhanced first aid equipment, including defibrillators, and all firefighters are now trained to deliver a higher level of first aid.

This equipment is used when fire crews are the first emergency service on the scene or where firefighters work alongside paramedics at incidents, especially where victims cannot be easily reached.

It will mean that casualties, particularly at the scene of a fire, can receive life-saving  first aid at the earliest opportunity and this means the injured will have a better chance of survival.

The training was developed in partnership with the London Ambulance Service and includes oxygen administration, defibrillation, inserting airways and fitting cervical collars.

The Brigade's fire rescue units (FRUs) are crewed by staff specially trained and equipped to handle complex rescues, including rescues from road and rail accidents, water, mud and ice, urban search and rescue incidents (such as collapsed buildings), chemical spills and for difficult rescues from height, when specialist rope and line equipment is used to bring people safety to the ground.

A further six FRUs were introduced in 2007 and the Brigade currently has 14 in it's fleet.

A specialist team was created in November 2005 to improve the Brigade's response to incidents where chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear (CBRN) materials are suspected or confirmed.

The team has been specially trained to operate equipment which can detect, identify and monitor potentially harmful CBRN and other hazardous materials and supports fire crews at a range of incidents.

Mobilising

Issues arose at locating exactly what London Underground stations to send our fire crews to on the day of the attack.

Since then the introduction of the Unique Reference Number (URN) system by London Underground gives our mobilising staff in Brigade Control the exact location of an incident including those occurring in tunnels. This enables the Brigade to send resources to the correct location where they are most needed.

Operational Discretion

Lady Justice Hallett did not criticise firefighters or the Brigade for adhering to their policy and procedures but she did raise the question of whether they were able to exercise operational discretion within the exceptionally dynamic situation they were faced with.

The Brigade have devised an operational risk assessment process that enables those in command at an incident to make appropriate use of their professional judgement in circumstances where standard operating procedures might inhibit firefighters from achieving what is required at the scene.

Firefighter safety is a paramount, so working outside of standard protocols requires a clear justification, risk assessment, control measures and a decision log.

Situations where the use of operational discretion may be appropriate include:

  • rescue a saveable life in the circumstances where implementation of the full operational policy would lead to an unjustifiable delay, resulting in the potential for greater injury or lives being lost
  • tackle a known small fire through a pre-emptive strike - using an extinguisher before a hose is laid out - where the adherence to policy would lead to delay and thereby create higher levels of risk for firefighters to extinguish a larger and more developed fire
  • where no action by firefighters may cause members of the  public to act in a way that would place themselves at risk (e.g. rescuing a person from a lake, before specialist water rescue equipment has arrived on scene)

Notes

The Coroner ruled that the 52 victims were unlawfully killed.

The Coroner also found that, on the balance of probabilities, none of the 52 deceased would have survived, whatever time the emergency services had reached the scenes of the explosions and whatever time the casualties had been extricated.

She also praised the efforts of the emergency services on the day. None of Lady Justice Hallett's nine recommendations, as part of her Rule 43 report, were directed at the Brigade.

Brigade member of staff Lee Baisden was sadly one of the 52 people who died at the 7/7 bombings. Lee, from Hornchurch, joined in February 2004 and was a finance officer.