I am sure that many of you will have been disappointed by the misleading statements and false claims made about the Fire & Rescue Service proposals at the County Council meeting last week.
I have identified 20 of the most serious ones and provided an explanation of why they were misleading or false below. The facts shown are from the consultation supporting documents and other West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service or Department for Communities and Local Government documents.
Please review them and, if anyone believes this information is inaccurate, please let me have any evidence to support that belief. There has been far too much speculation, wishful thinking and misdirection during this process, it is time for the plain, simple truth.
1. There will only be 3 extra deaths in 100 years, and no secret was made of the extra deaths.
This is the most disgraceful cover up and deception. The public consultation document did not mention a single extra death. It is only in the technical document that it says there will be 3 extra fire deaths in the home in 100 years. However, figures on the very last page reveal that there will also be 6 extra fire deaths in other buildings and 46 extra deaths in non-fire incidents. 3 + 6 + 46 = 55 extra deaths resulting from the changes. The Chief Fire Officer’s report to the meeting also inexplicably ignored the non-fire deaths and just said there would be 3 extra fire deaths, when in fact it is 3 + 6, which makes 9 extra fire deaths. This detail has been hidden and, despite now being exposed, the deceit continues.
2. Consultation widely available.
There is no evidence that more than a very small number of West Sussex residents were aware of the consultation. Those who did know were not told the truth. The consultation document suggested these savings could be achieved without affecting performance, which is not true. Even if people took the trouble to read through the 280 pages of supporting documents they would not have seen the true effects and the total number of extra deaths, unless they also did some sums.
3. Forums held and presentations given.
Information about the real effects was withheld at these meetings and misleading and false information was given. For example, at the Chichester South CLC meeting, they were told that the number of fire engines was not being reduced, when in fact five are being cut.
4. The scrutiny processes were rigorous.
Processes took place, but as Councillor Rae said they are not professional firefighters. They had to rely on the Chief Fire Officer’s proposals, which had to fit the reduced budget. There was no one with the necessary professional expertise to scrutinise his suggestions, to offer alternatives, or to identify the full effects. Since the proposals became public there has been overwhelming professional opinion confirming that the proposals will see firefighters and the public exposed to a much greater risk.
5. Mr Barnard does not recognise significant public concern.
He chooses not to recognise that there is significant concern amongst those who understand the real effects of these cuts. The only people not concerned are those who are blissfully unaware of the increased danger they will be in as a result of longer response times for many incidents.
6. The service is changing and needs to reflect a modern approach.
The service already has a modern approach and it is disrespectful to the principal officers to suggest otherwise. Reducing fire crews and fire engines is not modernisation, it simply reduces the ability of the service to meet demand, especially during increasingly frequent periods of high demand. There is simply no justification for reducing resources to the lowest level since the service was formed in 1948, especially when there are over three times as many calls, more complex incidents, and additional duties have been placed on the service.
7. Prevention is at the heart of everything the Fire & Rescue Service does.
Yet the number of fire safety audits has fallen from over 3,000 in 2010-11 to less than 1,400 in 2012-13. Worryingly 34% of the latest inspections also found premises to be unsatisfactory. Mr Barnard’s latest cuts will, from just one proposal alone, cut prevention work by more than 5,000 hours a year (Proposal 5).
8. The Chief Fire Officer would not put the public or his personnel at risk. This is professionals redesigning their professional service.
This shows that Councillors Rae and Barnard do not understand risk. The Chief Fire Officer necessarily puts firefighters at risk every day, and the public are also at risk every day. His job is to reduce the risk as much as possible, but his ability to do so is dependent on support and funding from the County Council. Better funding means more prevention and improved response times, which means more lives and property saved. Reduced funding means less prevention and longer response times, which means more lives lost and more property destroyed. Firefighter safety depends on their fire engines being fully crewed and supporting fire engines arriving quickly. The public and Firefighters will clearly be at greater risk if these cuts go ahead. It is not being professionally redesigned to meet need, just to fit an inadequate budget.
9. There was no ‘call in’.
This is a complete red herring, as the call in process cannot be used to oppose a decision.
10. Several references were made to the advantages of the 4x4 vehicles. Easier to get two people there on a 4x4 than it is to wait until you fill a fire engine.
Mr Barnard, despite not being a professional firefighter, suggests that a small 4x4 vehicle is an adequate replacement for a full sized, properly equipped and crewed fire appliance. It may be easier to get two people there on a 4x4, but that is of no use when you need a full crew and the equipment on a fire engine. There may be some incidents where only the crew is required from a second fire engine, but that is not known when the call is received. The only responsible approach is to send two proper fire engines to building fires. Failure to do so will see a repeat of the tragic incident in Wales where two Retained Firefighters lost their lives. National guidance followed that said two fire engines with an absolute minimum of 9 firefighters must be sent to all house fires. Removing fire engines and reducing crews will result in unsafe working practices. No upgrade of the 4x4s is going to see them carry the extra water, hose, ladders, or the rescue and other equipment that is often required.
11. Unsubstantiated and unfounded scaremongering.
A disgraceful slur from Mr Rae, as there is every good reason for residents and firefighters to be concerned. The evidence to support that concern is to be found in the official documentation. Hundreds of professional firefighters have confirmed there is good reason to be concerned. Serving firefighters have done so through their union representatives, as they have been told not to speak publicly, and many retired firefighters have also spoken out about the dangers.
12. Councillor Rae complained about only hearing, ‘Crawley, Crawley’.
Councillor Jones actually said that the cuts will affect all areas, but there is good reason for Crawley residents to be concerned. They will be left with the worst fire cover in the County, despite them having the most incidents of any station area each year (1,483 last year), and having the busiest fire station in the County, responding to an annual average of over 2,100 calls. Yet they will have only two fire engines, the same as Littlehampton which only had 430 incidents in their area last year and on average they respond to just 830 calls per year.
13. Mr Rae quoted statistics for the number of mobilisations made by the 2nd and 3rd fire engines that are being removed.
Mr Rae’s deception continued, as he only spoke about actual mobilisations, not how often they were actually needed. The ongoing failure of West Sussex County Council to ensure adequate numbers of Retained Firefighters means that all too often, when these fire engines have been needed, there are not enough to crew them. Fire engines from stations further away have to be used, which then reduces the fire cover in that area. The real demand for these second and third fire engines has been hidden. Mr Rae also conveniently forgets that on the occasions they have responded, they have saved lives and property. Having these fire engines available between 35% and 60% of the time is not good, but instead of improving the situation, Mr Rae intends to make them unavailable 100% of the time.
14. Mr Barnard referred to Gatwick’s fire service. He also said that Gatwick Fire Authority made no objection.
There is no Gatwick Fire Authority. The Fire Authority responsible for Gatwick Airport is West Sussex County Council. Gatwick Airport is only responsible for immediate response to aircraft accidents and for having an emergency plan. The County Council has a legal duty to provide fire and rescue services to the airport for all incidents, and to provide the bulk of fire and rescue service resources as part of the Airport’s emergency plan. Up until 2010 there were 5 West Sussex fire engines close to the airport to support that plan. Now there will be just 2. Gatwick Airport answers to its shareholders and they need all the support they can get for their second runway proposal. They are not going to risk upsetting WSCC by objecting to these cuts. Especially as it will be WSCC who will have to explain an inadequate and slow response to the Airport at a public inquiry or inquest. An aircraft accident will put hundreds of lives in jeopardy. The number who survive will initially depend on luck, but will then depend on how quickly sufficient numbers of West Sussex Firefighters arrive. Removing resources and increasing response times to such a high risk location is grossly negligent.
15. There is a constant review and if new homes are built they will get the fire cover they need.
The suggestion that fire cover will be increased to protect new developments is a nonsense. Thousands of new homes have been built since 1974, yet the number of fire stations has not been increased. Instead they have been cut from 28 to 25 (effectively 24, as Horley no longer has any fire engines). No extra money has been set aside to provide fire cover for new homes. The only fire cover new homes will get is that which is already available from an increasingly over worked and under resourced service.
16. There has been a problem with Retained recruiting for many years.
It is quite disgraceful that Mr Barnard has been aware of this serious problem since 2003, but has done nothing to remedy it. In fact he has taken advantage of it by saying that, as crews are often unavailable, he will take their fire engines away. He has also imposed limits on the number of Retained Firefighters at stations that fall well below the number necessary to crew all their appliances round the clock. Mr Barnard's only reference to any action taken to address this crisis was that there is a recruiting poster near his home. It is his neglect that has resulted in nearly half the County’s fire engines being unavailable on some days. Such a shocking situation should be the subject of an urgent investigation. All the factors that contribute to this problem must be thoroughly investigated and workable solutions researched and implemented.
17. People will not be satisfied unless there is a fire engine at the end of every street.
This appears to be Mr Barnard’s fanciful notion, as no one has ever suggested there are demands for any such nonsense. Public expectations are quite moderate. They want no more than the level of resources that they have always had. Mr Barnard is failing the public and spuriously suggesting it is their expectations that are unreasonable.
18. The service is changing away from house fires.
Not true, as house fires in West Sussex during the last 12 years have fluctuated between 491 and 654 (530 in 2012-13). Very similar to the 1980s when they fluctuated between 502 and 599.
19. Risk is being reduced. Cars and roads are improving all the time.
As far as fires are concerned, the risk is increasing in West Sussex with fire deaths going up every year since 2008-09, despite the national figures going down. This should also be subject to an urgent investigation. Some old risks may reduce, but they are replaced with new ones. One of the latest has been electronic cigarettes and their chargers. The situation with road traffic collisions (RTCs) has been blurred, as not all attendances at RTCs are recorded. For some bizarre reason, if crews attend a RTC and report no action taken, it is erroneously recorded as a false alarm. National reports also indicate that the recession has seen a reduction in traffic and they expect that, as the economy picks up, traffic will increase and so will the number of crashes. The number of RTCs attended is still high, even with the manipulation of figures to suggest that the number is lower.
20. You will find this more than fair and adequate for a county of this size.
The size of the County has not changed since 1974, but the population has increased by 23%. Up until 2010 adequate cover was rightly considered by Councillors and professional Chief Fire Officers to be 28 fire stations with 46 fire engines and crews. It is reckless nonsense to suggest that with a larger population, which is going to continue to grow, just 24 fire stations with 35 fire engines and crews is adequate or fair.