Sunday, September 11, 2011

Firefighters shouldn't be forgotten, nor fire services up for sale

IN the sombre and devout evocations of America's "9/11" trauma this weekend, the experience and victims are being singled out of course from those of other bloody experiences - like the Iraqi and Afghan civilians killed in the "war on terror"; or the Chileans rounded up in the football stadium to be tortured and killed as part of their own "9/11" -the date in 1973 when a CIA-backed coup brought in General Pinochet's dictatorship.

But even in honouring the heroes and victims of 9/11 in New York, a reek of hypocrisy and injustice rises over the city's Ground Zero. A group of American workers whose heroism and sacrifice was recognised on all sides of the Twin Towers disaster was told there would be no room for them at the official commemorations.

Maybe billionaire Mayor Bloomberg was thinking less of the more than 340 firefighters killed in action trying to tackle the Twin Towere blaze and rescue victims, and more of the 3,000 who turned out a few months ago to protest cuts in the fire service.

New York firefighters are also having to fight for recognition of some of the injuries suffered on 9/11 such as particular cancers, as well as battling Bloomberg over their pension fund.

To be sure Bloomberg and his predecessor as mayor Giuliani attended the firefighters' own event honouring the dead, and doubtless took the opportunity to say how much he recognised their services. But when it comes to showing the respect that's due and valuing their contribution over the scope for cuts and profit-making, that's something else.

In London, though thankfully we've not had anything since World War II on the scale of 9/11, we have had plenty of occasions to be appreciative of emergency services and the dedicated people who provide them. There's room for investment in improvements, but here too those in power clearly think it is only the fat cats of the City who deserve greater rewards, while the hard-working and dedicated people our lives could depend on can be pushed around and belittled, the better to both make cuts and open up public services to private profit. And we all know what a contribution privatisation has already made to the public's safety in such cases as rail travel or hospital cleaning standards.

Anyway, here's a message from the London Fire Brigades Union(FBU):

Dear All,

You may or may not be aware, that the London Fire Brigade (LFB) have embarked upon a privatisation agenda of the service in London, there is no doubt that this madness and disgraceful attack on one of the best performing emergency services, is being driven by the Chair of LFEPA Councillor Brian Coleman, supported in the main by his Conservative colleagues on the authority.

The Conservative group currently have control of the authority, which was ensured by the gerrymandering of the numbers by the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, who also appears to support their actions and current direction.

You may also not be aware of the current fiasco with Asset Co (see below), the private company responsible for the supply and maintenance of the entire fleet of London fire engines and equipment, who are currently on the verge of collapse, such a collapse or winding up of Asset Co would potentially leave the entire fleet of fire engines and equipment in the hands of any creditors who already bracing themselves for considerable financial losses due to the debts owed by Asset Co.

Taking no cognisance of the current situation with Asset Co, the LFB are now embarking upon outsourcing the LFB control room functions along with seeking a private company to take over the training of all London Firefighters, this embarkation can only lead to a worse service if Asset Co is the example to be followed.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) believes that the continued large scale privatisation of parts of the LFB may only lead to a worse service for the communities we serve, and we should not entertain or accept such approach from a conservative led authority, whose only agenda is to inject the private sector into an emergency service to raise profits for investors and shareholders.

The London Region of the FBU asks you, your friends, colleagues and member’s to support our campaign to prevent this madness from continuing, by signing the UNISON e-petition below, against the privatisation of the LFB training and demanding that the brigade retain and enhance the current training provisions in house.

In advance of your support for this e-petition, we like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of all London FBU Firefighters.

Yours Fraternally

Ian Leahair

Executive Council Member London Region

Fire Brigades Union

* AssetCo is the flagship of fire service privatization. With London Fire Brigade it has the PFI contract to leaseback and maintain the 500 appliances and 50,000 pieces of safety critical kit

They have similar contracts with Lincolnshire (the kit and the strikebreakers).

AssetCo is bidding as part of a consortium for the training contract for London firefighters (that is the 80-day new recruit training, the refresher training eg real fire and breathing apparatus. It is all safety critical operational training. It is a 25-year contract believed to be worth £18 million a year.

London is also looking to privatise it control room operation (in the new building).

FBU Gen Sec Matt Wrack said:

London Fire Brigade has got a privatization disaster on its hands now AssetCo has hit the rocks. Its share price has plunged, creditors are gathering, trading in its shares has now been suspended and it is facing oblivion.

“The Government decided to cut the army, sell off the Green Goddesses and privatise strikebreaking. We now have a fire strike looming over pensions and the strikebreaking company in meltdown.

“Bringing the private sector into the fire service has already been a disastrous mistake. But the London Fire Brigade and Government are still hellbent on more privatization.

“It’s madness to involve the private sector in a 999 emergency service. We need public ownership and control of critical infrastructure, the private sector should be nowhere near it.

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