Windsor Castle fire - The Burning Issue

PUBLISHED: 17:13 13 March 2008 | UPDATED: 15:07 20 February 2013



The dramatic images of Windsor Castle alight have emblazoned themselves in the minds of Berkshire residents. Now fire services in the county and in the Chilterns are undergoing big changes. Will they be able to tackle major incidents so well? Jose...


ON NOVEMBER 20, 1992, 250 firefighters tackled a ferocious fire at Windsor Castle which raged for 15 hours and caused £40m worth of damage. Sixteen years on, there are fears that such a fire could be more serious if it occurs at night, because in July last year, Berkshire Fire Authority decided Windsor Fire Station would close between 8pm and 8am. Windsor's night duty crews will be redeployed to Wokingham Fire Station, and Slough's crews will provide night-time cover for Windsor, as well as their own area.

The change, due to come into effect later this year or early next year, is one of the measures outlined in Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service's (RBFRS) Integrated Risk Management Five Year Plan. The Plan aims to improve Berkshire's fire service and make savings which will be used to provide 24-hour cover at Wokingham Fire Station.

This will mean 13,800 people in Wokingham who do not currently receive an emergency response within 10 minutes will do so. Councillor Dr Paul Bryant, chairman of Royal Berkshire Fire Authority, said in his introduction to the Plan: "The risk profile in Berkshire has changed over the years and the risks facing local communities are very different from those that were present when the current fire stations were built. Hence, there exists a need and, indeed, an opportunity, to change the location of some fire and rescue resources to place them nearer to where the majority of incidents and the greatest risks occur."

The implementation of the Plan began in December with the closure of Sonning Fire Station, which was crewed by Retained Duty System (RDS) firefighters, who respond to emergency calls from their place of work or home. Five minutes is allowed for the crews to get to the station, so RBFRS said Sonning would be better served by the 24 hour-crewed Wokingham Road Fire Station in Reading. The timescale for the rest of the Plan will be confirmed after the Fire Authority meets on February 13.

The next proposal to come into effect will be the replacement of Cookham's fire appliance (engine) with a smaller off-road fire appliance and a second off-road vehicle to cope with incidents at Cockmarsh, a remote area near the River Thames, as well as incidents needing off-road support across Berkshire.

A two-year trial will take place to see if certain parts of the area covered by Crowthorne Fire Station are better served by Camberley Fire Station in Surrey. If successful, and if 24- hour crewing is achieved at Wokingham, Crowthorne Fire Station may close. However, once government plans to modernise emergency control rooms come into effect, the nearest fire appliance will be sent out, regardless of fire authority boundaries. As part of these government plans, the control room at Dee Road Fire Station in Reading will hand over its responsibilities to a new control room in Fareham, Hampshire in 2009 or 2010.

The fire appliance at Dee Road will be moved to Caversham Road Fire Station - an old building which may be replaced by a new community fire station. Finally, Wargrave Fire Station will close, once a new fire station has been built in Twyford. Most of the opposition to the Five Year Plan - from the public, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) - centres around the proposal to close Windsor Fire Station at night and provide cover from Slough.

Michael Rowley, FBU secretary at Windsor Fire Station and leader of the campaign to keep the station open at night, said: "This concept is seriously flawed since Slough Fire Station is the second busiest station within Berkshire - therefore it is entirely possible that they may be unavailable. The contribution of the Windsor appliance has been disregarded: From April 2006 to April 2007, Windsor backed up Slough on 170 occasions and Langley 69 times. Windsor also backs up Maidenhead, Ascot and Bracknell.

We believe the integrity of the emergency fire cover in east Berkshire will be seriously compromised as a result of this questionable decision. When the fire service is compromised, so are lives and property
." He said the unique fire risks present in Windsor - Windsor Castle, Legoland, two shopping centres, two hospitals, three industrial estates, three marinas upon the busy River Thames, five high rise buildings, a major racecourse, a football stadium, leisure centre, numerous schools and residential care homes and two army barracks - should not be overlooked for financial reasons.

"Legal advice tells us that we stand a good chance of securing a judicial review"

Eddie Cardoso, FBU secretary for Berkshire, said the union will present an alternative plan to the Fire Authority's meeting in February. The Wokingham-based firefighter said: "We also have concerns about four-wheel vehicles being in Cookham. They are mainly used in Crowthorne and Bracknell, so why take them to Cookham?" He added: "We want an increase in resources, not a decrease. As long as the public are protected, that's all that matters - that's what we're trying to achieve."

The High Court is currently considering RBWM's request for a judicial review of the decision to close Windsor station at night, on the grounds that it was based on historical figures, without proper assessment of future risks resulting from population increases in Windsor and Slough. The council also contends that the consultation process was defective and unlawful because it did not contain enough information to allow people to give 'intelligent consideration' or 'intelligent response' to the proposal. David Burbage, council leader, said: "It is very unfortunate that we have had to resort to the courts to help us overturn the Fire Authority's decision but we made a firm promise to our Windsor residents to do everything within the council's power to save night-time cover at their local fire station. Legal advice tells us that we stand a good chance of securing a judicial review."

In January Windsor MP Adam Afriyie submitted an Early Day Motion before parliament asking the Government to review the decision. Celebrities including Elton John, who lives locally, Wayne Sleep, Kris Marshall and Tony Benn are also supporting the campaign. Furthermore, the Queen told Windsor firefighters she had taken 'careful note' of their concerns, while the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York sent their 'best wishes' for the campaign.

In contrast, fire services in Buckinghamshire are being improved. Amersham Fire Station is getting a £500,000 refurbishment, including a breathing apparatus servicing room and a room for training or study sessions with ICT facilities. Work started in January and is expected to last about six months. The station's fulltime crews will be based at Chesham Fire Station while the work is carried out, although night cover will continue to be provided from Amersham. The RDS crew will be based at GE Healthcare in Amersham.

Three new fire appliances joined Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service's (BFRS) fleet in January and are stationed at Beaconsfield, Great Holm and Newport Pagnell. The new appliances are the latest installment in BFRS's programme of upgrading and standardising its fleet of appliances, which also helps reduce maintenance and training costs. The fire appliance being replaced at Beaconsfield will be transferred to the station's RDS crew, whose current vehicle will be sold.

Fire at Windsor Castle

The appliance being replaced at Great Holm will be used by Broughton Fire Station's RDS crew, whose appliance will move to BFRS's training school in Haddenham. Newport Pagnell's current appliance will be transferred to Marlow Fire Station. Marlow's will move to Brill, and Brill's current fire engine will be sold.

Fire Facts

  • Buckinghamshire's new nine-litre Scania 94D fire appliances cost about £250,000 each. Great Holm's has 13.5m and 10.5m ladders, Beasonsfield's has a 10.5m ladder.

  • According to the Five Year Plan, during 2004-2006 Slough fire appliances travelled into Windsor on emergency calls 509 times. On 493 of these occasions (96.8 percent) they reached the incident within 10 minutes. There were 38 journeys at peak traffic time (7am-9am and 5pm-6pm weekdays) of which 36 (94.7 percent) were attended within 10 minutes.

  • The Plan says Windsor is the quietest 24 hour-crewed station in Berkshire. On average over the last three years there have been three calls per week between 8pm and 8am.

  • According to the Windsor Fire Station campaign, the call-out figures in the Plan do not match the official Windsor Fire Station Occurrence Logs, Brigade Control records and vehicle log books, which show 409 night duty calls from April 2005 to April 2006 and 447 from April 2006 to April 2007. This is because Windsor's night shift is actually from 6pm to 9am.

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