Thursday, October 16, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #86

Yesterday's Doofus Of The Day award went collectively to a British motor vehicle licensing department.

Today's goes - again collectively - to another British institution: the Fire Service in London. As Richard Littlejohn points out, their bureaucratic obsession with health and safety regulations has made them into a laughing-stock.

Fire prevention is one of the few areas of this Government's lunatic obsession with elf 'n safety which it is difficult to mock. Difficult, mind you, but not impossible.

I could point to the millions spent on producing leaflets in 13 different languages, or the fact that there's special guidance for gipsies and travellers.

But that would be churlish. It would be a tragedy if a house caught fire because those people who speak only Somali, Hungarian or Tamil didn't realise that cigarettes should always be stubbed out in a proper ashtray, and not thrown into a waste-paper basket.

Anything which minimises the chances of our brave firemen and women having to put their lives on the line to save others from the consequences of their own carelessness is surely worth it.

If that involves advising members of the travelling community not to roast hedgehogs over an open flame in their caravan and be careful when burning tyres next to a wooden cricket pavilion, then who am I to argue?

Prevention is always better than cure, which is why the Government is encouraging us all to take up an offer of a free home fire safety consultation.

Mail reader Sheila Bushell, from Willesden Green, North-West London, decided to avail herself of this service for a couple of reasons. It not only confers peace of mind, but can also stop your insurance company wriggling out of any claim in the unfortunate event of your home burning down.

She sent me the letter from the London Fire Brigade confirming her appointment. It also contained a warning: 'While our primary aim is to provide you with this valuable service, the Fire Brigade has a legal duty to provide a safe working environment to protect the health of its staff.

'To assist us with this, we would therefore ask that if you do smoke, you would do everything possible to provide a smoke-free environment when our staff visit you in your home by refraining from smoking both during the visit and for a period before our staff are due to arrive. We suggest a period of one hour; ventilating your home before the visit to clear any smoke.

'If a smoke-free environment cannot be provided, our staff will need to assess the situation before proceeding, which in some instances may result in the visit being postponed.'

What, Sheila wondered, would happen if her house was actually on fire? Would the firemen refuse to put it out if they arrived to find her puffing on a Silk Cut to calm her nerves while her earthly possessions went up in flames?

As it happens, Sheila doesn't smoke. But she was appalled by the absurdity of it all, and the impertinence of being told what she could and couldn't do in her own home.

We're talking about an organisation which rushes into burning buildings for a living, yet refuses to enter any premises to conduct a routine inspection if there is evidence someone has been smoking there less than an hour previously.

Are they really suggesting that firemen are more at risk from inhaling the lingering fumes of a small cheroot than saving someone from the 18th floor of a towering inferno?

Rather than leave it there, I called Sheila to ask her what happened when the inspector turned up.

'It was absolutely hilarious,' she told me. She had been expecting a man in a van with a clipboard. Instead, a fire engine arrived and three firemen got out.

'I couldn't have wished for a better response if I'd dialled 999,' she said. The neighbours came into the street, wondering what was going on.

Bearing in mind the letter she had received, Sheila asked if they wanted to test for the presence of cigarette smoke before they crossed her threshold. Perhaps they had brought a canary in a cage for this very purpose. The firemen simply blanked her.

She told them she'd only expected one person. 'Are the other two of you here to hold the ladder?' she asked.

Oh no, madam, they said, they don't use ladders any more. Elf 'n safety, you understand.

Instead they produced something which resembled a broom handle with a sort of grabbing device on the end and began to prod her ceiling-mounted smoke detector.

When it wouldn't budge, Sheila offered them her kitchen steps. After conferring, they agreed that would probably be OK.

Two of them secured the steps while the other climbed to the dizzy heights of the second rung. One of the officers then asked Sheila to stop talking because it could cause a distraction.

Sheila started laughing. At this, the intrepid climber gave up his ascent and came back down to earth. Better safe than sorry.

And that, bar the usual form-filling, was that. They got back in their fire engine and drove off.

Sheila said: 'Please don't think I'm denigrating the firemen. I have nothing but admiration for them. But I despair at the ludicrous, petty regulations which cover the way they are supposed to do their job. You couldn't make it up.'

I couldn't have put it better myself, Sheila.

There's no smoke without fire, they used to say. But these days, it seems, where there's smoke, there's no firemen.

Sometimes one's at a loss for words. The amount of smoke inhaled by a fireman during one good blaze probably equates to a year's worth of cigarettes - but that obviously hasn't occurred to the bureaucrats who thought up these regulations.



Anonymous said...

She should have videotaped it, and put in on YouTube. Or at least invited the neighbors, they could use a good laugh too.

Bureaucrats dont have any sense of humor. If they did, they should have used the old classic:
"Please dont smoke when the firemen arrive. They are trained professionals, and if you smoke they will assume you are on fire and act accordingly"

Ambulance Driver said...

Apparently they're not like American fireman, most of whom I know would light up a cigarette the moment they took off their SCBA mask.