The public is being put at risk by “unprecedented” cuts to the front line fire service. That was the message brought to the heart of York by the Fire Brigades Union on Monday (September 15).
The union brought its Ring Of Fire tour of the UK – “to highlight the devastating impact the government’s austerity agenda is having on the fire and rescue service” – to St Sampson’s Square.
People were asked to sign a petition opposing further budget reductions in front of a vintage fire engine bearing the slogan, “Workers of the world unite”.
“The attacks we are facing at the moment, in terms of cuts to the front line, are unprecedented,” said Steve Howley, brigade secretary for the FBU North Yorkshire.
“We see on average eight to 13 fire engines unavailable every single day due to insufficient crews in North Yorkshire.”
That is before the results of North Yorkshire Fire & Rescue Service’s fire cover review.
The review is looking at the number and distribution of fire stations and engines, and the firefighters needed to crew them.
Steve said he feared this process would further cut the front line. “North Yorkshire is a large rural county.
“If we lose fire engines in any area of North Yorkshire, the knock on effect is response times are going to increase dramatically.”
Alarm at new response protocol
Another concern of the FBU was the reduced response to automatic fire alarm calls.
The new protocol sees the fire brigade not responding to alarms between 8am and 6pm at premises where people do not sleep, and sending a single engine, rather than two, to high-risk properties like hospitals at night.
“The automatic fire alarm is there to protect the public and businesses,” Steve told YorkMix.
By sending a single engine to high risk properties, the crew may be left with a dilemma – if there’s a fire and people at risk, do they breach safety procedures and attempt a rescue?
Or do they sit tight until a second crew arrives, delaying any rescue attempt in a situation where seconds count?
Steve, who is based at the Kent Street station in York, has been a firefighter for 16 years. He says he has not known it as bad as this.
He added: “There are areas where savings can be looked at in the fire service if they are genuine about wanting to run it more efficiently.”
Steve said that the salary of Chief Fire Officer Nigel Hutchinson “is more than the Prime Minister’s”. Mr Hutchinson’s annual base salary for 2013/14 was £146,108 compares to David Cameron’s PM salary of £142,500.
Efficiencies should be made at management level not by cutting front line services, Steve added. He urged people to make their support for frontline fire services known by lobbying members of the North Yorkshire Fire Authority.
Fire service response
Owen Hayward, head of risk management at North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service, responded to the claims.
“The service is facing reduced funding from central government along with most of the public sector,” he said.
“A large proportion of the savings are being delivered through non-front line services. However, the number of incidents has reduced by more than 30 per cent over the last ten years and there is scope to consider reducing resources to match the risk.
“This is what the fire cover review aims to do in a way that minimises any impact on the community. The review will include consideration of the availability of fire engines.”
He said the service attends about 2,000 false alarms per year from automatic fire alarms – nearly a quarter of all calls.
“The automatic fire alarm proposals aim to reduce the cost to the service of these false alarms while maintaining an attendance to fire alarms at the highest risk properties.
“The service continues to look for savings elsewhere including the senior management team, which has reduced over the last two years. There are plans to reduce the costs in this area further still.”
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