AS THE firefighters dispute looks set to continue indefinitely, with a series of eight-day stoppages planned as firemen strike in pursuit of an enhanced pay claim, dog and cat enthusiasts have expressed safety concerns in the event of a fire at one of the major shows due to take place over the coming weeks, writes Nick Mays.
Emergency fire prevention coverage is being provided during the firemens strike by army personnel using Green Goddess fire engines, along with cover in certain areas by Standby part-time- firemen.
The National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham is the venue of Supreme Cat Show on November 30th. The Ladies Kennel Association show also takes place at the NEC on December 14th; whilst the National Cat Show is due to take place at Earls Court, London on the same day.
Naturally, the prospect of a major fire, or worse, a terrorist outrage at either of these venues doesnt bear thinking about, although the Fire Brigades Union have made it clear that their members would leave picket lines to attend any major incident of this nature which could prove life-threatening.
However, authorities at the NEC and Earls Court have assured exhibitors and visitors to both venues that their safety is of paramount concern and every step will be taken to ensure that appropriate fire prevention and safety procedures are in place.
Richard Shelton, Public Relations Manager for the NEC told OUR DOGS: "The NEC's planning in these exceptional circumstances, has been developed having taken advice from the appropriate authorities, namely the Fire Service, Police and local authority.
"These agencies have fully appraised the venue of the temporary arrangements in place on the affected days, and The NEC has therefore been able to co-ordinate these arrangements with its own in-house operations and resources. Public safety remains The NEC's highest priority in addressing this issue.
"The NEC's in-house resource has 26 years experience in fire prevention and 'first-aid fire fighting techniques', designed to complement the work of the Fire Service.
programme of planned events at The NEC Group venues will continue
as normal. The company is, of course, constantly monitoring
the situation and taking appropriate advice."
Mr Sheltons words of assurance were echoed by Debbie Thomas, Director of Communication for Londons Earls Court and Olympia exhibition halls, who spoke to OUR DOGS earlier this week, saying: "Earls Court & Olympia Group takes its responsibility towards the safety of everyone and everything that comes into our two venues extremely seriously and we have in place well-rehearsed emergency plans and procedures.
"We currently employ full time fire officers in both Earls Court and Olympia. However, during show times auxiliary fire officers from the London Fire Brigade support these officers. During the fire brigade's union strikes we will need to replace them. This will be done using retired auxiliary fire officers and security staff who are trained in fire awareness and prevention."
Ms Thomas added that extra vigilance would be maintained during the ongoing dispute:
"In addition we are briefing all staff, our own and those in the building working in the shows - to be extra vigilant, to follow fire prevention guidelines and to act safely and sensibly at all times. During strike periods we have increased the frequency of rubbish collection, rigorously enforced our no-smoking policy during build-up and pull-out and increased the frequency of checks on all areas of the building during the day and night.
"However, should a major emergency occur at our venues, we will expect suitable professional fire cover to be provided, regardless of the strike, as we will not tolerate any threat to the safety of our staff, visitors or neighbours.
"We, like other major organisations in the UK, hope that a resolution can be reached soon which prevents further strikes going ahead as they could cause major disruption to the shows planned to be held over the next few weeks."
At the time of going to press, the Fire Brigades Union was in renewed talks with local authorities and the Government to reach a suitable compromise pay deal to avert the first of their eight-day stoppages, planned to start on Friday, November 22nd.