One of the cost-saving options being considered by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is making Crowborough Fire Station unmanned.
The proposals would mean rather than a crew being at the station during the day, retained firefighters would turn-out from home or work when needed to attend an emergency call.
Over the next five years East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) need to save £9.3 million, because of cuts in Government grants and pressure not to increase Council Tax. These savings represent 24%, or just under a quarter of their budget. As the bulk of Service’s costs are personnel, ESFRS would need to reduce the number of staff by between 50-80 posts to achieve the reductions.
The Fire Authority have already approved measures expected to deliver the bulk of the required savings in the current financial year and 2015/16, including removing one of the two fire engines in Hove.
ESFRS are now beginning to think about other areas for investigation to save money after April 2016, including changes in Wealden. They include provided a “Day Crewed Plus” Fire Station in the Uckfield area which would be fully crewed 24 hours a day. If this was to go ahead, the Service would consider what impact making Crowborough Fire Station a Retained Station would have on response times.
The agreed attendance times for life-threatening incidents are the first appliance should arrive in 8 minutes in 60% of calls and 13 minutes in 90% of calls.
We shall continue to fight against any downgrading of fire cover, in order to successfully fight off such cuts it is vitally important that the local community to get involved. With the local communities help we have recently stopped cuts in the Hastings area and also in Battle. We are continuing to campaign to overturn the decision to cut a fire engine from the City of Brighton and Hove.Day Crewed Plus would lead to massive amounts of fatigue within the workforce, the public deserve a professional response cabable of dealing with all emergencies they may face. The residents of Crowborough pay their taxes and deserve to get a professional timely response when they dial 999.
Both Uckfield and Crowborough are both “Day Crewed” – firefighters work day shifts and provide night-time cover on an on-call basis. “Day Crewed Plus” at Uckfield would mean firefighters stay in an accommodation block provided on site or nearby therefore providing an immediate turn out 24 hours a day. ESFRS claim this would have a positive impact on attendance times across a large area of Wealden.
However the FBU in East Sussex contest this view, they think there will still be delays in turning-out for incidents when compared to a shift station, as they shall continue to be alerted similarly to how retained firefighters currently are. Simon Herbert from the FBU added:
It relies on firefighters working 96 hours over 8 days, it does not improve attendance times. It does however allow the Service to cut more firefighters.
Day Crewed Plus has been condemned by the FBU members in East Sussex due to the devastating impacts such a duty system would have on the work/life balance and family lives of Firefighters. The Day Crewed Plus duty system is not fit for purpose let alone for the 21st Century Fire & Rescue Service. Such a system is outside of our nationally agreed Terms and Conditions and rates of pay.
The FBU believe the Service shall seek to get volunteers to work this antiquated system by offering financial bribes and by applying the pressure of potential job losses. These practices have no place in a modern fire service.
Uckfield Fire Station currently occupies prime real estate adjacent to Tesco supermarket. Gary Walsh, Deputy Chief Fire Office told Crowborough Town Councillors the fire station is currently in the ideal location for Uckfield. However, under plans to redevelop the centre of Uckfield, the site might be sold off for redevelopment and the fire station relocated. In the past ESFRS’s Training Centre, just of the A22 at the Batts Bridge Roundabout in Maresfield, has been muted as a possible location for a new fire station.
In a statement to CrowboroughLife, ESFRS said:
We already operate retained stations in many rural areas and towns in the north of the County including Heathfield, Forest Row, Burwash, Wadhurst and Mayfield, where the risk to the community is to fires is low. Here, firefighters live or work within five minutes of the station and are “on call” should there be an emergency. The firefighters are trained to the same level and standards as their whole time colleagues.
Over the last few years the number of fires and other incidents in the Crowborough area have dropped from 315 in 2008/09 to 200 in 2013/14, as this graph used in a presentation to Crowborough Town Council shows:
ESFRS stress this work is in the early stages. In order to properly explore the impact of these proposals, they will carry out consultation with the public, with stakeholders such as business and community groups, with representative bodies (e.g. unions) and with our staff. No date has been confirmed for this or when proposals will be presented to the Fire Authority.