Bognor Regis Herald — this is the frightening reality of inadequate WSCC Fire and Rescue protection
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West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service Stop the Cuts
APRIL 2018 UPDATE
Worrying News — Worse than we thought
At the latest Select Committee meeting there were signs that improved openness and genuine consultation may replace the secrecy and sham consultations we have seen in the past.
This group has previously been attacked by senior fire officers and council leaders for raising concerns about inadequate protection for the people of West Sussex. So it is good to see the new Chief Fire Officer demonstrate his integrity by showing the meeting a graph that revealed how dire the situation is, and it is worse than we thought.
He clearly knows that Councillors cannot make informed decisions, if they are not told how bad things are. It was also good to see improved levels of scrutiny on fire service matters and to be able view the debate via the Council’s website.
This has been a weak area that had to be addressed, if the Council is going to fight off the Police & Crime Commissioner’s takeover attempts.
Remember this West Sussex County Council Slogan?
But this is the frightening reality of inadequate WSCC protection
Retained Firefighters Just 52 Pence Per Hour
It was also revealed at the meeting that the dire situation had much to do with poor availability of Retained (part time) Firefighters. We were also told that, on average, Retained Firefighters were providing 4,500 hours of cover, over and above the time they spend on their fulltime job.
Yet they are only paid 52 pence an hour for providing that cover.
Councillors from all parties voiced concerns and said that better incentives must be provided to ensure Retained Firefighters can be recruited and encouraged to remain in the service.
Councillor Heidi Brunsdon spoke of tangible incentives such as tax breaks, family breaks etc. Councillor Barton also spoke of the need for better incentives, and suggested looking abroad at how incentives encourage public service.
Imagine for a moment
If, during the recent snow and ice conditions, roads had not been properly gritted by the Council’s contractor. Can you imagine the uproar there would have been if the contractor had said a lack of drivers meant that over 70% of the council funded gritters could not be used.
Yet that is what is happening to our fire & rescue service. On occasions, vital life saving fire engines, that cost taxpayers over £7 million, cannot be used when emergency calls are received.
It is time for the County Council to step up and properly protect West Sussex residents.
Why won’t Councillors take action?
In 2015, Councillor Andy Petch asked the County Council to set up a special group to look at the serious problem of poor crewing levels. Twenty Councillors voted to take action, but his motion was rejected by the Conservative majority.
Since then, despite efforts by the service, this crisis has steadily got worse. That is because legal and financial restrictions limit what the Chief Officer can do. It needs radical action and County Councillors must take the lead. They must exert pressure on the Government and work with others to resolve this crisis before lives are lost.
Remember being told incidents were decreasing?
2014–15 to 2016–17
10 months to January 2018 v 10 months to January 2017
Revised Integrated Risk Management Plan 2018–22
This draft plan was presented to the Select Committee for comment before public consultation in May/June. There was concern that, despite the length, it lacked detailed plans for the public to comment on. There is also concern that some of the strategies in the document open the door to more cuts.
Councillor Daniel Purchese said of the IRMP, “there is potential for some serious cuts that the public might easily miss”.
We agree, and of concern are:
Review of response standards
Sadly this sounds like an attempt to move the goal posts. WSCC is already failing to meet their own generous response times. They must not increase the target times.
Standard crewing cut from 5 to 4
This is no improvement and it will not, as claimed, cut the consequences of incidents. It is also not an efficient use of resources, as more fire engines have to be used to get a safe number of firefighters to incidents.
Crewing fire engines with less than 4 ‘when necessary’
This is simply unsafe for firefighters and the public. There is no evidence to support the hare-brained idea that technology can replace the right number of trained firefighters.
Review of special appliances
These have already been cut to the bone and this opens the door to more cuts and reduced effectiveness. Special appliances may not be used regularly, but they are invaluable when they are needed.
Revise response to automatic fire alarms
This will increase the risk of an inadequate response, or even of no response, to actual fires. Nationally, such policies have resulted in several examples of serious fires being attended with inadequate resources. There are also reports that such policies have resulted in at least one fire death resulting from not attending an automatic alarm call.
How many fire crews are available to protect the residents of West Sussex?
WSCC’s maximum provision of frontline fire engines & crews
To protect 641,600 residents
Incidents attended — 5,081
WSCC’s maximum provision of frontline fire engines & crews
To protect 806,900+ residents (Up 26%)
Incidents attended — 8,842 in 2016/17 (Up 74%)
WSCC crewing sometimes means only these fire engines are available
From 1948 there were never less than 46 frontline fire engines to protect the area now covered by the County Council. Several Chief Fire Officers and County Councillors, from all parties, were satisfied that was the right number. Government Inspectors, who look for under or over provision, also agreed the number was appropriate for the safety of West Sussex residents.
Yet, since 2010, the Council’s so called ‘improvements’ have cut frontline fire engines to just 35. They gave assurances that the changes would ensure not less than 30 of the remaining fire engines would always be available. Critics expressed serious doubt about those claims and said that the cuts would result in people waiting longer for help to arrive and put residents and firefighters at greater risk. Sadly, they have been proved right.
Public Consultation starts in May
Consultation on the Integrated Risk Management Plan 2018–22 will begin in May. It is essential that the public read and comment on the plan. We would urge people to demand that the number one priority should be restoring proper protection. An absolute minimum of 30 fire engines to be available around the clock, with at least four firefighters on each one.