Here's some counter-intuitive thinking: after closing 10 fire stations and cutting 550 firefighters' jobs, more wards in London are falling within the six minute target response time for the first fire engine. However, the average response time for the city has increased from 5.18 minutes to 5.30.
There are two targets the fire service is supposed to meet: getting an initial engine to the scene of a fire within six minutes, and getting a supporting engine there within eight. Last year, during the bitter battle over proposals to meet budget cuts by axing stations and services, we discovered that 267 of London's 624 wards didn't meet that six minute target. New figures with response times for January to August this year show that 213 wards now don't meet the six minute response. That's a reduction of 54. When it comes to the second engine's eight minute response time, 140 wards now don't meet the target as opposed to 143 before. However, the average citywide second engine response time is 6.51 minutes, rather than 6.28.
So what's more important? The average for the city, or how long it takes for a fire engine to get to your own house? While we know it should probably be the former, we suspect for most people it's the latter, particularly if you're standing on the street in your pyjamas watching your belongings start to burn (or waiting at an upper window for rescue). Response times for many will have crept up a bit but more of us are now within that target zone, and targets feel reassuring. Otherwise, why bother with them?
If you live in Norbury, you're likely to see a fire engine faster than anyone else in London: average first engine response times in your area are currently 3.16 minutes, nearly a minute faster than 2012/13. Residents of Darwin ward in Bromley may want to invest in some fire extinguishers, as your average first engine response time is 9.50 minutes, an increase of over a minute, while the second engine will get there an average of 11 minutes after getting the call.
If you want to examine the response times yourself, download the spreadsheet.