'Every second counts': Brussels fire brigade blocked by pedestrians

'Every second counts': Brussels fire brigade blocked by pedestrians
Credit: Brussels fire brigade

The Brussels fire brigade called for improved management of pedestrian streets after it became stuck when trying to reach a fire in the historical city centre on Saturday.

The services were called on Saturday evening at about 20:35 to respond to a kitchen fire on the 3rd floor of a house in the Rue Grétry near Grand Place, which is a pedestrian street. Yet the streets were filled with people enjoying the fine weather, causing additional delay for the fire brigade.

"In a fire, every minute counts, as it can result in more rescues but can also prevent the fire from spreading," Walter Derieuw, spokesperson for the Brussels Fire Brigade, told The Brussels Times.

"In this case, the woman in the apartment where a fire had broken out was smart and closed the kitchen door so that has limited the fire to that space."

Derieuw explained that the layout and narrowness of the street impeded the positioning of the aerial ladders, which is the preferred rescue tool, but that the presence of many onlookers made it difficult for the police to guarantee an efficient safety perimeter for the emergency services.

The fire was then quickly extinguished and damage was limited to the kitchen, however, this is not always the case.

One-way streets and narrowed space

According to Derieuw, this is not the first time the fire brigade is blocked by badly parked cars and other obstructions. "This is why we leave with two wagons from two different outposts when called for a fire, so that if one is held up the other might get there in time," he said.

Onlookers during the fire on Saturday. Credit: Brussels fire brigade

The services' own planning department provides updated itineraries that take into account local traffic restrictions and organises monitoring visits to check the reality on the ground and to analyse where vehicles may struggle to pass.

The municipalities also keep the services informed about the one-way streets they set up, said Derieuw, meaning they can adjust their routes if necessary. Our "Planning" department "But with badly parked cars, there is not much a municipality can do about it."

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He said that, especially in the evening, when cars are irregularly parked on footpaths and street corners, the fire trucks often have to drive forwards and backwards several times to get into the street.

"We are in favour of pedestrian zones, but what we are also in favour of is a more efficitent enforcement of this zone. This can be done by controls and fines, not by placing all kinds of obstacles or narrowing the lane or including speed bumps, because that limits our speed to get in," he said.

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