Fire chief warns of budget pressures

Appliances at Crowborough Fire Station

The most senior firefighter in East Sussex has warned that extra support is needed to maintain the county’s fleet of fire engines.

Speaking at a meeting of Wealden District Council’s overview and scrutiny meeting today (25th January), Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker told councillors of the pressures faced by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS).

As a result of these pressures, CFO Whittaker said, the fire service was looking at extending the amount of time it uses its vehicles before replacing them.

Ms Whittaker said:

They are expensive and it was 2014 when the government stopped providing a capital grant to fire and rescue services. 

Therefore that very expensive commodity, which is a fire appliance and other specialist appliances as well, have to be funded internally by our own capital programme.

We are seeing significant areas of growth in East Sussex and at this point in time the fire and rescue service is given no additional funding whatsoever. The only means of generating funding is through our council tax precept. 

We are lobbying government to consider the implications. 

We’ve kind of sold all our family jewels and family silver [already], the most significant one being the sale of our Eastbourne headquarters which generated £4m into our capital programme, but that pot is running dry.

We must be able to maintain our fire appliances. One of the things I am having to do  is extend the life of some of our appliances, but of course we will do that in a risk-based way. 

It will be based on the wear and tear they are living, but we are going to move, in some instances, from a 15-year life to a 20-year life for some of our larger appliances.

Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker

Ms Whittaker said ESFRS typically replaces three fire appliances each year, with the newest vehicles usually then given to the busiest stations in the county.

The newest appliances also have “enhanced protections” and had been designed with the input of working firefighters.

To maintain its fleet, Ms Whittaker said ESFRS would also be looking at taking on new capital borrowing as part of its next budget, which is to be considered by the Fire Authority in February. 

That meeting is due to take place on 11th February.



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