On Thursday the Fire Authority agreed to go-ahead with the consultation despite the coronavirus situation.
If the proposals are accepted, Crowborough might only have firefighters “on station” for 8.5 hours Monday to Friday and the second fire engine at Crowborough Fire Station will be removed.
The Fire Brigades Union warn the “brutal cuts” will threaten safety.
Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, said
This could be the first of many attempts to sneak through cuts to services while the public focuses on the pandemic. If politicians think they are going to make public services pay for this crisis, then they are sadly mistaken.
Chairman of the Fire Authority Cllr Roy Galley said:
It’s very important that we ensure members of the public have their say on any proposals the Fire Authority considers. In these difficult times, we are taking additional steps to make sure the consultation is fair and open. Our independent experts will be contacting hundreds of people by phone to take part in our survey. Thousands more will be contacted by post. We are also holding online focus groups so people can give their views without having to leave their homes.
However you don’t need to be asked to take part, you can complete the online survey today.
Original article: There are wide-reaching proposals designed to provide an effective rescue service across East Sussex and Brighton & Hove within available resources.
Changes at day-crewed stations
Under the Integrated Risk Management Plan firefighter’s contracts at day-crewed fire stations in East Sussex, including Crowborough, could be changed which would mean at times it would take “slightly longer” to respond to emergencies.
At Battle, Bexhill, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven, and Uckfield, there are currently two watches of six full-time firefighters, who cover an average of 42 daytime hours per week on-station and remain on-call during evening periods.
Firefighters work a combination of “positive” and “standby” hours over a 24-hour period. Positive hours are worked at the fire station and standby hours are worked on-call from a location within a five minute ‘turn in’ time of the station.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service are proposing to introduce a ‘day only’ crewing model at these six stations. In this arrangement, full-time firefighters would be on-station during the daytime Monday to Friday (not seven days per week as at present).
The community would still have a 24/7 response, but as the report points-out, it would mean it will take slightly longer to attend emergencies when on-call (“retained”) firefighters are on duty.
Two different crewing patterns are being considered. In one, firefighters would be on-station Monday to Friday for 10.5 hours per day (Monday to Friday). In the other roster system, firefighters would work 8.5 hours per day.
Depending on which system is chosen, between 27 and 33 full-time firefighters would be “released” in total from these six fire stations. A number of options to mitigate the impacts of these staffing changes are being developed and there will be a consultation process with trade unions.
Removal of second appliance
Another proposal in the Integrated Risk Management Plan [IRMP] that would affect Crowborough is the removal of the second-fire appliance.
Analysis done by the fire service suggests only 24% of calls in 10 fire station areas being affected require more than one appliance.
The appendices to the report give supporting evidence for the changes. The analysis shows that the number of incidents in the Crowborough and Uckfield station areas are lower than the on-call station at Seaford.
If this proposal gets the go-ahead, if a second fire appliance was required at an incident in the Crowborough area, it would come from a neighbouring fire station.
The Fire Brigade Union does not support the changes nor do they think the timing is right for the consultation. Their members believe the proposed changes will produce over-reliance on the retained firefighter system and will negatively impact firefighter and public safety. In correspondence sent to councillors on the Fire Authority they argue it has proved very difficult to recruit and retain “on-call” staff.
Simon Herbert, Chair of the East Sussex FBU, said:
The FBU and our membership do not believe that now is the correct time to be consulting on any IRMP let alone one that sets out such drastic changes to how services are delivered. We are in the midst of the Covid pandemic.
Now is not the time to be changing the service. Post-pandemic, the fire service nationally may change, we are already seeing firefighters take on additional roles including driving ambulances, transporting deceased, testing of sick, and the distribution of PPE.
Plans will also most likely have to be reviewed and changed, due to changes in the roles of firefighters in society.
Despite the challenges faced as a result of the coronavirus situation, the Chief Fire Officer is recommending an eight-week consultation about the Integrated Risk Management Plan 2020-2025 goes ahead. There would be modifications to the consultation plan operates. Face-to-face meetings with stakeholders and drop-in sessions for the public will be replaced with alternatives, such as telephone surveys and online forums.
There is going to be a virtual meeting of the Fire Authority tomorrow (Thursday 23rd). The Fire Authority has the ultimate responsibility for such things as:
- Deciding how many fire stations are needed
- How many firefighters and fire engines there are, and
- How much money needs to be raised from the Council Tax to pay for the service
The Authority is made up of 18 councillors. The Fire Authority will not be making any decisions on the proposals at this stage. Further detailed work in relation to the impact assessments, planning assumptions, policy implications, delivery timeline and implementation options will be required. This work will be completed and presented to the Fire Authority at its meeting on 3rd September 2020, alongside feedback from the consultation.
If approved at tomorrow’s meeting, the consultation period will run from Friday until 19th June 2020. A dedicated page on their website www.esfrs.org will be updated once the consultation is open, with information about how people can take part.