Monday 25 October 2010

Playing with fire: updated

One day, when I was oh, maybe about five years old, I was outside my house, whizzing up and down on my new scooter, when our neighbour, Mrs Eisenberg, stuck her head out of the window and said 'Will you be a good girl, and run and tell your mother the boiler has exploded and my house is on fire?' I nodded, thinking, yes, ok: I'll tell her when I go in. She shut the window, and I carried on scooting up and down the pavement. After a while, I noticed flames coming out of the roof next door, and thought, on reflection, that perhaps Mrs Eisenberg had meant to say, 'Will you go and tell your mother my house is on fire NOW?' So I ran in doors, and told her.

Two fire engines rushed to the scene, and my brother, cousins and I had a very interesting afternoon watching the firemen struggling to put out the fire, and then my brother and cousins got to sit in the fire engines, but not me, of course, because I was only a girl, even though I was the one, as I kept reminding everyone, who had (eventually) saved the Eisenbergs from certain death.

A few years later, in the middle of the night, I woke up with a jolt to the sound of screaming, and the acrid smell of smoke, because the same neighbours' house was on fire - again - this time due to a television that had burst into flames. Fire engines were already outside, but the damage to the house was severe, and our neighbours had been very lucky to get out.

Many years later still, I was living in a tiny terraced house with a new born baby who was refusing to go to sleep: late one night, as I was walking back and forth, trying to get him to drop off, I heard the terrifying sound of what turned out to be a nearby window exploding, and glass shattering.The house next door but one was on fire. We called the fire service: luckily the station was literally just behind us, but the fire, caused by a dropped cigarette, caught so quickly that in the short time between calling the emergency number and the engines arriving, the house was completely alight, flames roaring out of the windows. Luckily the old lady who lived there was pulled out of the house without serious injury, and by the efforts of the firefighters, the fire was prevented from spreading to us, but it was a very frightening experience.

Cigarettes, tvs, boilers: I imagine these are amongst the most common causes of domestic fires. Unless you witness such a sight, you cannot understand how quickly fires take hold in a domestic environment. And perhaps you cannot understand how vital it is to have a fire service able to respond instantly to such incidents. Perhaps it is something we take for granted, that this is the case, and will always be so. It isn't.

There is a lot of misinformation being put about in regard to the London Firefighters' strike. It suits the purposes of certain individuals to obscure the facts, of course, presenting the strike as being over new shifts, and implying the reason is the intransigence of obstructive workers refusing to move with the times. Is that true? No. If you have an open mind, and want to hear the firefighters' side of the argument, take a look at:

If you do, you will see that the London firefighters have been forced into an argument they did not want, and one that was totally unnecessary. This dispute is not about pay: this has arisen because the authority wants to impose new working conditions, by forcing firefighters to reapply for their jobs on a new contract, the result of which, it is feared, may lead to a reorganisation of service coverage and the closure of stations,or the loss of fire engines. There are apparently plans to reduce coverage at night, because fewer fires happen at night, but as the union points out, these fires tend to be more serious, no doubt because many take hold while people are asleep and are therefore not discovered earlier. I still live very near to a fire station, and I can hear for myself how often, day and night, the fire engines are called out.If coverage is reduced, it is surely an unavoidable truth that lives in our capital will be put at risk. Any extra delay in response time to the sorts of incidents I've experienced myself could have disastrous - fatal - consequences. Do you want this to happen?

Now then. Who is the head of the London Fire Authority? Oh dear. Our favourite councillor and GLA representative, Mr Brian Coleman. A man who is of course renowned for his remarkable skills in negotiation and conciliation, and well loved by firefighters all over London as a result. Er, yeah.

You might wonder what in God's name Boris Johnson is doing, putting Coleman in charge of the London Fire Service. Perhaps he thought it would keep him out of mischief, and well away from City Hall for as much of the time as possible. A relief for Boris, I'm sure. But the result is like - well, like leaving a two year old child with a can of petrol, and a box of matches, and standing back to watch the flames.

It will be suggested by those trying to impose the new working conditions that, by taking strike action, the firefighters are putting lives at risk, and even that there should be legislation to prevent workers in such vital services from taking industrial action. Let's turn that argument on its head, then: if this service is so vital, as of course it is, surely those who put their own lives at risk in order to deliver this service should be accorded a greater amount of respect, and better rates of pay and conditions of service, than they have now. If they take strike action, it is only to prevent the introduction of changes that really could endanger lives, if put in place.

During any strikes, fire services in London are being provided by a company called Asset Co, which has a contract to provide such coverage. Yes, the same Asset Co which features in the Gifts and Hospitality register of declarations by Mr Brian Coleman - remember the £350 Harvey Nichols hamper, and the dinners?

Nothing wrong with that, of course. No: in all honesty, I'm rather relieved to see that I'm not the only one worried whether our Brian is eating properly: just looking at him, you can see he must hardly eat more than a little sparrow, and is barely keeping body and soul together.

Rather more interestingly, in my opinion, is that in the same list of declarations, there is a mention of a more modest - and rather more appropriate - gift to Coleman, by the Fire Brigades Union. This is a book about firefighting in the Blitz. I hope he read it. My own father was a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service during the worst of the Blitz, and the stories he used to tell us about his experiences always left a lasting impression of the courage, skill, and strong sense of duty that firefighters must have in order to undertake such demanding, stressful, and often deeply distressing duties. Where would we have been without them then, and where would be without them now?

So: who do you think does a more useful job, and deserves our support: a dedicated, courageous and hard working London firefighter, or Brian 'Harvey Nicks' Coleman?

*Updated Sunday 31st October: oh what a lovely story in the Mail on Sunday, where our Mr Coleman is up to his old tricks, quoted in an article claiming our firefighters are all really striking because new shifts might interfere with their day jobs, such as modelling for Versace (what?)...

"London Fire Authority chairman Brian Coleman said last night: ‘The reason the Fire Brigades Union does not want a shorter night shift is that it will mean they get three hours less sleep – and therefore make them less able to do their second jobs."

Er: hang on ... how many jobs does Coleman do? Not one, not two, but three jobs ... hmmm.

And he does these awfully well, doesn't he, citizens?

No problem about being a Barnet councillor and cabinet member, a member of the Greater London Assembly, and chair of the London fire Authority ... And for what, a mere six figure salary? (Not to mention his modelling contract for Versace, of course - oh, what, has that campaign been dropped? Just a Halloween special? Fair enough.)

And on top of that, poor Brian often has to spend his lunchtimes and evenings slaving away on our behalf, networking, stuffing himself with endless dinners, attending those vital civic functions such as cart marking ceremonies; there is just no end to his duties, and his dedication to public service. We must remember, however, that Brian is unique, (thank God), and very special, and he, and only he, is able to balance such a demanding and gruelling routine on our behalf.

Boris Johnson wants to be re elected as Mayor of London. If he is to acheive this, his work will be cut out: there is undoubtedly a swing towards the politics of the left, both nationally and locally. Here in North London, there is a direct link between the idiotic behaviour and arrogance of the Barnet Tories and 'Allowancegate' and the return of voters to Labour. The fire dispute, and the role played by Coleman, is only going to make things worse: almost everything he says, and the way he says it, is guaranteed to increase the sympathy of the vast majority of ordinary London residents.

If you are reading this, Mr Mayor, Mrs Angry's advice to you is that you instantly remove Coleman from the negotiations, and his post: if you cannot understand how badly this clown's remarks about the fire service reflects on your administration, you are in real danger of finding yourself out of a job after the election.

Londoners support their firefighters, you know, Boris: maybe it's time to show that you do too.


ainelivia said...

The Fire Brigade, no brainer.

ainelivia said...

Brian Coleman appeared on two news shows in the past week, regarding the Fire Brigade strikes, Channel 4 News, and BBC London at 6.30. Full marks to Jon Snow for handling BC very well.

On the BBC London news, Brian (mis)quoted Pablo Picasso in order to make a point, he said something like - in order to make something new you first have to destroy the old. It so angers me when the words of a genius are used to make the actions of Brian and his coterie seem "creative".

The actual quote of Picasso is "Every act of creation is first an act of destruction".

Wonder if Brian actually thinks he is being "creative", god help us all.

Another Picasso quote which Brian might bear in mind is: "The chief enemy of creativity is "good" sense". He seems to believe he is full of it; good sense that is.

Mrs Angry said...

Oh how we delude ourselves ... and somehow I think that Picasso, the genius who created 'Guernica', ie the greatest expression of disgust and despair at the destructive power of man, and the merciless repression of fascism, would feel nothing but derision, and a certain amount of contempt, for a small town clown like Coleman.

baarnett said...

What are you up to, Mrs A?

You did a post called "Penny for Guy however..." and have left a shadow of it on Barnet Eye.

And now it has disappeared.

I've no idea what it is - but maybe Brian will crop up in it!

Mrs Angry said...

oh Baarnett, I don't know what happened: I started writing the blog and without asking it to, accidentally seemed to publish the beginning of a draft, went to look for it and it had disappeared into the ether! Anyway, I finished it and republished. I think.