Having circulated a press release to the media on this, I have had a number of calls from them today. Interestingly some of them told me that they were suspicious when WSFRS stopped saying where appliances were sent from. Surprise, surprise, some also suspected a connection between this change and the cuts, and they have certainly not been impressed with the official excuse.
One of the things I was involved with, during my time with WSCC, was training for responder organisations in Sussex about information provision to the media and the public. I have also attended events with national and international speakers on the subject. Time and again speakers have said that the reputation of organisations depends on information being timely, accurate and honest.
WSFRS media professionals have attended some of this training, so I feel sure they would have advised against these changes. As for information requests, I cannot believe that any media professional would refuse it, unless there are specific legal reasons, or unless instructed to do so by senior officers.
More information is emerging about things that can be hidden by this new policy, which I see seems to have started just before Christmas. It appears that when there was a serious house fire in Crawley on the 30th December, the first pump to arrive was Horsham and the response time was some 15 minutes.
This was apparently because two Crawley pumps and the Reigate pump, out posted to Horley, were at other incidents. I don’t know if it was the same incident, as details have come from various sources. Crawley’s 3rd was not available. Crawley’s two then became available and were sent on the ‘make pumps four’ request. Turners Hill (only available 72% of the time in 2013-14) and Horsham’s 3rd (only available 52% of the time) were luckily available this time and responded to the ‘make pumps 6’ request.
If West Sussex County Council wants to avoid further reputational damage, they need to quickly reverse the decision to withhold station details on incident information. If they really want to avoid accusations of cover up, they should start including the response times. Now that really would be honest.