Impact of climate change on your work

Plenary on 2015-12-02
Session date: 
December 2, 2015
Question By: 
Jenny Jones
City Hall Greens
Asked Of: 
Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA) and Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, London Fire Brigade)


Are you well prepared for the impact that a changing climate might have on the fire brigade's work over the coming decade?


Answer for Impact of climate change on your work

Answer for Impact of climate change on your work

Answered By: 
Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA) and Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, London Fire Brigade)

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I am going to focus - at the start of my answer, anyway - on how we have assessed the impact and what we have done in order to mitigate that impact rather than what we are doing to try to mitigate climate change in itself, which we have discussed here before.

Back in 2008, as part of LSP5, we did assess the impact of climate change on the work of the LFB.  We did that also as part of the work we have been doing in terms of responding to the Mayor’s Climate Change Adaptation Strategy as well.  We assessed at the time that the major impact of climate change on the LFB was likely to be an increase in the amount and frequency of flooding that we see within London.  We assessed that on the basis of our staff availability.  We have sufficient staff.  In fact, we have more than enough staff to deal with flooding but we were not equipped as well as we could be in order to do that.  Since that time we have managed to significantly improve our ability to deal with flooding not only by training of our staff but also introducing quite a significant amount of new equipment. 

I will just go through what some of that equipment is that we have introduced.  We now have floating pontoons that can assist in the rescue of people affected by flooding.  We have mud rescue paths - we are the only emergency service in London at the moment that has mud rescue paths - so that we can get people away from areas of rivers and things, perhaps.  All of our fire engines have been adapted so that their air intakes are now higher off the ground.  They are able to go through flooding up to about half a metre of water.  We have updated our standard design brief around new fire stations as well.  Our new fire stations that are currently being built take more account of issues around flooding and the potential for them to be involved in flooding. 

We have bought 40 light portable pumps.  We have six operational support units that carry our flooding equipment.  Nine of our FRUs have now been equipped with inflatable boats with outboard engines, inflatable rescue paths and dry suits and things for our staff to work in flooded environments.  We have six national high‑volume pumps provided by the Government.  We have had those for a while now and they have been seen to be used in flooding instances around the country over the last few years.  We have a range of other equipment in terms of safety equipment for our staff.  We have taken great care to assess the impact of climate change in terms of the impact on us, particularly around flooding, and we have responded very appropriately. 

Jenny Jones AM:  That sounds really positive.  I am sure I know the figures as well as I do, that 140,000 Londoners are at risk from excess surface water flooding.  My concern is: if we had several critical incidents at once, which is of course entirely possible with flooding, how many incidents could you get to?  You talked about six operational units.  Does that mean that is the number of incidents that you could deal with?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  No, the six operational support units carry equipment that could be delivered around London to more than one incident.  We carry more equipment on those vehicles.  They are six of them but they could then attend all the incident scenes, if needed, to drop off equipment supply for firefighters.  I cannot put an exact number on how many flooding incidents we could deal with because it depends, once again, on the scale and the complexity of what we are dealing with, but we have demonstrated back in 2014 we are able to respond to a number of flooding incidents at one time.  In fact, the Kenley incident down in Croydon we responded to over quite a significant period of time as well. 

Jenny Jones AM:  That took four high‑volume pumps, 15 pumping appliances and three FRUs to deal with that one incident, so you can see my concern that there could be other incidents of the same sort of scale.  Do you really feel you have the people and the resources to deal with several high‑volume incidents at the same time?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  I do.  Of course, it is not just the LFB’s responsibility to deal with and mitigate the impact of the flood.  Local authorities obviously have a significant responsibility in that as well.  During the flooding in 2014 we dealt with very closely with lots of local authorities.  We were supporting the local authority effort to deal with flooding.  We very much would rescue the people, if people needed to be rescued, or play a part in that rescue and co‑ordinate the rescue efforts.  Then actually dealing with pumping and so on would be largely or very significantly an Environment Agency and a local authority issue as well. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Do you have training sessions with other emergency services like the police on things like flooding?  Do you have joint training?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Yes, we do.  We not only exercise our flooding response as well with the London agencies but we also exercise our flooding response with brigades from outside of London.  We saw flooding in recent years in other parts of the country.  At one point particularly, for the Somerset flats, every single high‑volume pump in the country in a fire and rescue service was mobilised to that incident.  We were part of that response as well. 

Jenny Jones AM:  You are pre‑empting all my questions.  I was going to ask you about the Somerset Levels flooding because that was extremely destructive and over a huge area.  There is a possibility here in London that many rivers could flood simultaneously.  I am concerned that there is the potential for a number of widespread incidents and that there just will not be enough and you cannot deal with it.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  There is certainly the potential for a number of widespread incidents.  We know that through the work we do with the London Resilience Forum because obviously flooding is a significant risk on the London Resilience Forum’s risk agenda.  We work with all the other agencies in London, the London Environment Agency, local authorities, police and emergency planning teams from elsewhere as well to make sure the plans in place are as robust as they can be to respond to more than one flooding incident at a time.  To go back to last year, when we were supporting the effort at the Somerset flats, we were also supporting the efforts in other counties as well. 

Jenny Jones AM:  That was going to be my next question, actually.  Just how much support can you call on from other areas?  Some of these incidents will be known about several days in advance when rivers start to flood upstream and so you would have time to call in help.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Absolutely.  The national response is co‑ordinated through the LFB command centre down at Merton.  We run a thing called the Fire and Rescue Service National Co‑ordination Centre and it has a control room in Merton.  Its task is to co‑ordinate all the national assets for a range of different risks, flooding being a particular one of those.  We have 52 high‑volume pumps across the country.  The latest mobilisation of those pumps in terms of pre‑planning took place only last week when we were expecting quite a surge up in the north‑west.  We pre‑deployed about 20 high‑volume pumps from around the country into that area, ready in case that surge had taken place.  Fortunately, it did not on that occasion but we do try to plan as far ahead in the future as we can. 

Jenny Jones AM:  This is something I have asked you before and I do not know if you have done it.  I do not think you have and so, Mr Dobson, I want you to do it if you possibly can in the future.  It is that when you go around talking to households about fire risk, it would also be useful if you would talk to people about flood risk.  Things like paving over front gardens increase the likelihood of surface water flooding and, if you explain that to people, it might stop a few households from paving over their front gardens and increasing the problem for all of us. 

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  That would be a really good idea. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Thank you.  When can I expect you to do that?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Unfortunately it would be something we would need to consult with the FBU on because it depends on the way in which we provide our home fire safety visits.  We went through a very extensive process of agreeing with the FBU what home fire safety visits include quite a number of years ago.  We would need to go back and have that consultation, unfortunately, and so it might slow it down. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Yes, all right.  I am happy to help you with speaking to the union, obviously.

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Thank you.

Jenny Jones AM:  I am also concerned that we are moving into a completely different situation because in possibly ten years’ time all the good work you have done on fire reduction will presumably have paid off more and more and we will be moving to a situation where there could be because of climate change - and I know Gareth does not believe it is happening but I am sure you see - extreme weather events ‑‑

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  Do not put words in my mouth, Jenny.  It is very serious.

Jenny Jones AM:  You could be dealing with a different sort of fire in that you could be seeing parks catch fire because of extreme periods of drought and that sort of thing.  Are you thinking ahead about what could happen in a decade or so, so that you do not have to suddenly reorganise things in a completely different way?

Ron Dobson CBE QFSM (Commissioner for Fire and Emergency Planning, LFB):  Yes.  Our response to flooding generally has demonstrated that we are doing that.  We looked at that in the last London Safety Plan and the improvements we have made in terms of availability of flood rescue equipment has been as a result of that planning done through the last London Safety Plan.  Changes in the distribution and the types of calls that we receive will almost certainly be part of the next London Safety Plan next year.  Things like the way the climate is changing and therefore the different risks we are going to have to respond to will certainly be one of the things that is part of the London Safety Plan next year as one of the risks that we have to address, which will then influence us in the way in which we design our service for the future. 

Jenny Jones AM:  Thank you ever so much.  I only have 20 seconds.  I do not know whether you want to say something, Gareth, in 20 seconds.

Gareth Bacon AM (Chairman, LFEPA):  Jenny, I take climate change incredibly seriously.  The LFB reacts and plans for what it sees on an evidence basis.  Things like grassfires periodically happen now in the summers anyway and fire brigades are geared up for dealing with that.  The Commissioner has given a very good example of how the LFB is dealing with flooding.  I do not see either of those things receding in terms of things that we need to do and so that will carry on.