My bank holiday and a filthy fire – two days later

Bank Holiday fire

On Bank Holiday Monday I posted a story about a filthy fire.  As I said in that post, I had left a message asking the council’s Environmental Health Officer to phone me back.  The message was left with the council’s emergency out of hours service.

By 09:40 on Tuesday morning I had not received a phone call, so I phoned the council.  The main switchboard told me that the council did not have an Environmental Health Officer (see Note 1 below) and asked me what my call was about.  She wanted to know whether to direct my call to “pollution” or “safety”.  I opted for pollution.

By chance I was put through to the “pollution officer” for my district.  He told me that he was one of three pollution officers for the unitary authority area of Peterborough.  He hadn’t received my message from the emergency out of hours service (and as I write this post he hasn’t emailed me to tell me he’s found it), so I briefed him on what had happened.  How the fire service had put the fire out once toxic materials were found on it.  And he confirmed that burning the kinds of items described would constitute an offence under the Clean Air Act

I asked him about the council’s out of hours service which fails to provide a mechanism for either putting out a toxic fire, getting council staff to the event, or even reporting it, or even getting a message through.  He explained that there would be a high level decision determining spending on this service and that he would try to help me understand where that decision had been made.  Meanwhile he said that the emergency services should certainly be called if all else failed. He mentioned how noise nuisances are regularly reported to the police out of hours.  He said he would go and inspect the situation.  This particular fire I will now stop posting about until I know whether or not the council decides to prosecute.

He rang me back later in the day to report on progress and agreed to ask a colleague to give me a call about how the council had made its decisions about out of hours services.  He also told me that the broken links had been fixed and would be correct on the website by the morning.

This morning I checked the links.  One has been removed and both pages now point to a single outside link: http://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/neighbourhood-nuisance/garden-bonfires/

So now at least there is a working link to a some garden bonfire content under nuisance.  Thank you Peterborough City Council pollution and IT teams!

What the council’s website now points to is content on a charity website.  The charity has published this leaflet, with the same content.   What do you think?  Is this robust enough?

Should the council have its bonfire policy?  The leaflet suggests that there isn’t much point.  If you want a good, informative source of information on bonfires this response to a FOI request takes a bit of beating.  But the messages in that document don’t seem to me to get enough of an airing, nor do they seem to be falling on the waste burners’ ears.

Which could be partly why we have so many filthy fires burning in my area.

Note 1: In December 2010 the council had three, presumably fully qualified officers:  http://www.peterborough.gov.uk/PCC/FOI/Docs/foi-10-0539-R.pdf

My bank holiday & a filthy fire

Bank Holiday fire

My intention this bank holiday was to continue to tidy up after the madness of all that election activity and maybe to venture out into the garden if the rain held off.  This morning was beautiful, but much to my disappointment what should have been a day of leisure at home was spoiled by a fire which burned for several hours in a neighbour’s garden.  I think it is out now, but as I write this I have a sore throat.

A while ago I tried to stop the persistent burning of commercial and trade waste in another neighbour’s garden.  It took a ridiculous number of phone calls and I learned on that occasion that, outside working hours, phoning the council just doesn’t work.

I like garden bonfires and a good meal and a good party can be had around a fire.    But fires which burn building waste, fabrics, floor coverings, electrical equipment or furniture are all out of order: they are illegal and a statutory nuisance.  They are illegal because they cause uncontrolled and potentially lethal air pollution, which has been illegal since the 1950s.  These sorts of fires stink, give you a sore throat and give off a tell tale thick black smoke.  The toxicity of fires burning plastics and random combinations of synthetic materials is extreme but it seems that many people have no idea how dangerous they are.  Near my house two somebodies burned two noxious fires last night (I passed tell tale patches of smoke when I went out for a walk) and with another fire lit today not only are people suffering uneccessary exposure to pollutants, but escaping from the fumes just isn’t possible.  Closing windows does not stop smoke or invisible fumes penetrating buildings.

Fire nuisances are one of the biggest problems Peterborough residents have to put up with.  They are very nasty to live with and they have an impact on peoples’ health.  The city’s air monitors are not always in the right places to pick up these back garden events in residential areas, monitoring apparently being focussed on vehicle emissions by the sides of the busiest roads.  And people can’t always pick up the awful smells: as if they had completely lost their sense of smell.

I haven’t lost mine and I rang 999.  The fire service attended immediately and checked that somebody was looking after the fire and left.  The fire continued to burn.  When I rang Dogsthorpe fire station later to find out what had happened I was told that ringing 999 had not been my best course of action.  I had a quick chat explaining exactly how useful I found it going through the correct channels and followed this up with the following email to the fire service.

“You yourself tried and couldn’t get through to the Environmental Health Officer today –  bank holiday.  But I think this applies to anybody needing help outside office hours.

These fires are usually lit outside working hours and often in the dark: so to solve the problem the council would have to provide a well signposted out of hours service.

If you look on its website  this is the council’s page about air pollution: http://www.peterborough.gov.uk/services_a-z.aspx?ServID=8  and if you click “bonfires” at point 6 you get this a page not foundhttp://www.peterborough.gov.uk/page_not_found.aspx?p=%2Fpage-10443

this is the council’s page about nuisances: http://www.peterborough.gov.uk/environment/pollution/nuisances.aspx .  From there if you scroll down to “useful links” and find click “garden bonfire leaflet” (which should take you to an external link) you get this page not found:  http://www.environmental-protection.org.uk/assets/library/documents/Bonfires_leaflet_Oct07.pdf

I look forward to hearing your views and whether or not anything can be done to improve this crazy situation.”

SCREENSHOTS council fire pages 404s

Meanshile the fireman I had chatted to revisited the fire, because although he hadn’t seen anything nasty in the fire, he had noticed things close to the fire which worried him.  When he went back he found carpet and a mattress burning and this decided him to put the fire out.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to report this incident to the council by phone today, which is a bank holiday, but I had a go anyway.  Peterborough council’s direct line is 01733 747474.  This number advises an emergency number, which is 01733 864157.  When I tried this number I was told that the Environmental Health Officer does not work out of hours and all I could do was leave a message, just asking for a phone call, which I did.

Tomorrow I will have to spend yet more time to report this to the Environmental Health Officer at the council.  I think there should be somone on call to deal with environmental health issues 24 hours a day.  And I think one phone call should be enough.  What do you think?

Meanwhile thank you to Blue Watch at Dogsthorpe Fire Station for helping today!