East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service has decided that two firefighter posts are to go at each of five fire stations, including Crowborough.
Following months of meetings and discussion, a working group proposed options for the Corporate Management Team to consider at their meeting on 30th April. One of the options would have seen one post cut at each of the five stations and would have maintained operational service delivery at its current level. However, on 7th May senior managers announced that two firefighter posts will instead be cut at Uckfield, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven and Bexhill as the ‘preferred option’ did not offer adequate savings.
Uckfield Watch Manager Ian Ritchie said:
Personnel at every Fire Station want to deliver the best possible service to the communities they serve. Unfortunately, partly due to both the geographic and demographic make-up of the rural districts (Wealden, Lewes & Rother), these areas already receive a level of service delivery far below the countywide targets set by the Combined Fire Authority.
These cuts can only extend attendance times across large areas of the County as the Government’s austerity measures continue to impact upon local services.
These cuts represent part of Phase 1 of a three phase cost saving programme. In total, the service needs to achieve savings of £7.1million by 2018/19, because of cuts in Government grants.
It was agreed by the Fire Authority that the cuts at these five fire stations could be made without the need for formal external consultation, because the impact in terms of service delivery is assessed to be low.
However a public consultation (now closed) called Changing the Service Shaping the Future, was carried-out earlier this year. The proposals and the results of the consultation will be considered by the Fire Authority on 5th June. Cost saving measures in Phase 2 include removing one appliance from Brighton, and reductions to the number of firefighters at Battle or The Ridge in Hastings.
The next stage of cuts, Phase 3, highlights areas for further review and investigation – and no decision has yet been made on them. They include investigating the impact of making Uckfield “Day Crewed Plus” and Crowborough Fire Station becoming a Retained Station.
With a Retained Station, 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 of expertise as whole time colleagues.
Speaking to The Courier newspaper, Roger Bradgate, the former officer in charge at Crowborough Fire Station, said lives could be put at risk if a proposal to change the site to a retained service goes ahead:
Crowborough is the largest inland town in the county and with its surrounding villages its population is well over 30,000 people and timing is vital to save lives. If the nearest full time station is north of Uckfield then it is going to increase travel times.
I have nothing against the retained crews and they do a great job but gone is the day when people could drop their tools and their employer let them go and fight a fire.
Both Crowborough and Uckfield are currently “Day Crewed” with firefighters working day shifts and provide night-time cover on an on-call basis.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service say “Day Crewed Plus” at Uckfield would mean firefighters would stay in accommodation provided by the service on site on a self-rostering system. They are therefore ready to turn out 24 hours a day. ESFRS say this option for Uckfield would mean the service could save money by reducing posts, but it would have a positive impact on attendance times across a large area of Wealden.
Uckfield Fire Station is currently next to Tesco, but as part of the proposed redevelopment of Uckfield Town Centre, the land may be sold off and the Fire Station relocated, perhaps to the same site as the Training Centre near the Batts Bridge Roundabout in Maresfield.
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.
Fire Authority members are due to meet on 5th June to discuss the next steps.
Work will now be undertaken to formalise the new duty system at Crowborough, and the other four stations losing firefighters, to minimise the impact of the changes on public safety. A new duty system will operate from 1st January 2015.
Formal proposals for Phase 3 would be brought to Fire Authority in the next 12 months. The public will be asked for their views on Phase 3 before the Fire Authority make a final decision.