Tuesday, 31 March 2015

West Sussex County Council's sick April Fool

Tomorrow (1st April) will see West Sussex County Council remove 5 fire engines, 21 wholetime firefighters and 15 retained firefighters from fire stations across West Sussex. Claims that this is modernisation are false, as these cuts are being made purely to satisfy a political agenda.

The process to get here has been marred by an insincere and flawed consultation, by inaccurate, misleading, hidden and false information, by intimidation, and by a callous disregard for the people of West Sussex.

Firefighters have had to endure uncertainty about their jobs, they have had to change their working arrangements, and in some cases their place of work. No consideration has been given to the disruption this will cause to their home lives. Some have also had to lose a significant portion of their income and some firefighters and other fire service staff have lost their jobs.

Objectors include hundreds of firefighters, several County Councillors, many town and parish councils and most importantly the public. All have been ignored and some have been treated with contempt and abuse. 

Despite some publicity, I still encounter significant numbers of West Sussex residents who are unaware of these cuts. Most of them are also appalled that such a vital emergency service is suffering front-line cuts.

It has also been alarming to see what a dreadful state the County Councillors have allowed the service to get in to. Perhaps not surprising when they have abandoned proper accountability and reporting. Regular committee reports on the service’s performance seem to have been replaced with cosy chats between the Cabinet Member and the Chief Fire Officer, and proper published reports, available to the public, have been replaced with spin.

Not just during the consultation, but in annual reports. Just look at this example of spin in the 2013-14 annual report. Fire deaths rose from 6 (WSFRS figures) or 7 (DCLG figures) to 8. How did they disclose this increase? Well they didn't, this is what they showed:


An honest report, as we used to get in annual reports, would have shown it as:

Using modern graphics it would be:

As for the availability of appliances, that is truly disgraceful, with over half of them not crewed on occasions. Instead of taking proper action to remedy the problem, they are simply going to remove five completely. Ironically there have been days with generally poor crewing levels, when one or more of the appliances being removed were actually available. 

The public will be at greater risk, because help will take longer to arrive for some of them. Even in areas not losing fire appliances, they may have to wait longer for help, because their local fire appliances are responding to areas that have lost fire appliances. Firefighters will be at greater risk, because when they need assistance it will take longer to arrive.

Both firefighters and the public will be at greater risk, because crews of 4, instead of 5, will become the norm, not the exception. Any experienced firefighter will confirm that arriving at a working fire or serious crash with just 4 firefighters restricts the options for effective and safe actions. No professional firefighter can honestly argue otherwise. The only people who will argue for crews of 4 are those who are not concerned with safety and effectiveness, just those concerned with saving money.

This may seem depressing, but please don’t be discouraged. All is not lost and the campaign to undo the damage to what was once a leading fire & rescue service will continue. The petition has nearly 1,700 confirmed signatures, with several paper copies yet to be returned. Please continue to ask people to sign it, and if you have yet to sign it, please do.

To those who have helped to fight this travesty I am most grateful. I am also grateful to those who have kept me informed on things the County Council would prefer to keep secret. Please continue to do so, as scrutiny needs to be even tighter as the cuts begin to bite.

To all who read this, firefighters or public, please keep safe.

Tony Morris

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Water Carrier move from Littlehampton to Petworth

This was announced as a benefit to Petworth and the surrounding area but, like a Trojan horse, looks can be deceiving. Moving it from a station with a good crewing record to one with crewing difficulties makes no sense.

If Petworth firefighters respond to a fire in their area and decide a Water Carrier is needed there will be no firefighters left at the station to crew it, so one will have to be sent from Burgess Hill or from Hampshire or Surrey.

This Water Carrier, accompanied by Petworth’s fire engine, will attend incidents across more than half the County, which will then leave Petworth without a fire engine.

It also appears that most incidents requiring a Water Carrier are nearer to Littlehampton than they are to Petworth. That will increase response time across much of the County. This 'Water Carrier locations and incidents' map shows known incidents for 2013 and 2014.

When Petworth are attending incidents in their area, the Water Carrier will not be available for calls in other areas. Littlehampton has three times as many firefighters as Petworth, so is clearly better able to crew both their fire engines and the Water Carrier.

It now seems that they are so concerned they will not have enough firefighters to crew the Water Carrier and the fire engine at Petworth, they have said they can take both, even if the fire engine goes with less than the minimum crew of four! That is disgracefully putting firefighters in greater danger and ensures they will not be able to operate both vehicles properly.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Appalling lack of fire cover in West Sussex

Latest News Release:

Recent fires in Crawley on Saturday (14 March) and Worthing on Tuesday (17 March) have exposed serious failures to ensure that fire engines in the County are properly crewed.

When called to a fire at Celandine Close in Crawley, only one fire engine at Crawley and one at Horsham had sufficient firefighters to crew them. When they arrived at the incident and requested help it had to come from Surrey. Two other fire engines at each of these stations were not crewed, and there were no fire engines crewed at East Grinstead, Haywards Heath or Turners Hill.

A spokesperson for the West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts group says, “Details show that if there had been a serious fire in a larger building in Crawley, those crewing shortages would have resulted in most of the fire engines coming from Surrey and East Sussex. Having to rely on fire engines from as far away as Brighton to get just ten fire engines to Crawley is unprecedented.”

At Worthing a disabled woman had to wait over nine minutes to be rescued when her home in Clifton Road caught fire, even though the fire station is only a mile away. One crew each from Worthing, Littlehampton and Shoreham were sent.

The spokesperson said, “Two of Worthing’s fire engines were at another incident, but more than one incident at the same time is not unusual. West Sussex County Council did not properly consider this when planning more cuts. It is also clear that there were crewing problems, as nearer fire engines from East Preston and Lancing were not sent”.

Cuts due to take effect in April will see another 5 fire engines, 21 wholetime firefighters and 15 retained firefighters removed from fire stations. The County Council has claimed that a new Crewing Optimisation Group of 16 wholetime firefighters will improve the crewing of retained fire engines. This has been described as an untested and inadequate attempt to cover up inadequate resources.

Tony Morris, who has a ‘Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex petition on the County Council e-petition website, said, “This new group will not work weekends, so would have been of no use at the Crawley incident as it was on a Saturday. Many people have seen through the County Council’s false improvement claims and, as well as over 1,600 signatures so far on the petition, many councils, organisations, firefighters and members of the public are strongly objecting to these cuts.”

He concluded, “These failures are just the few that we get to hear about. The frightening reality is that there are not enough firefighters to properly protect West Sussex now. These further cuts will put firefighters and the public at increased risk.” 

Friday, 6 March 2015

WSCC Cabinet Member Deception Continues

Senior County Councillors have repeatedly said that they would mitigate the effects of removing fire engines from Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington by providing new 4x4 vehicles. Now, following a Freedom of Information request, it appears this information was at best misleading and at worst deceitful.

At the October County Council meeting both former Cabinet Member Lionel Barnard and his former Deputy Jim Rae insisted that Councillors need not worry as the 4x4s would be uprated. Councillors were told that the Chief Fire Officer and the Cabinet Member had given undertakings that the 4x4s at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington would be upgraded.

New Cabinet Member David Barling told Councillors at the February meeting that the ‘super-duper new 4x4 vehicles' were being trialled and will be put in place. He also advised Councillors to focus ‘on what they don’t tell you’. Very apt in this case as the FOI has revealed that:
  • The vehicles are not being trialled. So far officers have only visited other brigades to view their 4x4s.
  • No reports have been submitted on these visits.
  • They do not know what vehicle they will be buying.
  • No decision has been made on which stations will receive them, although they do say the first is ‘likely to go to Midhurst’.
  • The first one will not arrive until 2016.
  • They have not yet prepared a business case for these ‘super-duper new 4x4 vehicles' that Councillors claimed would ‘be in place’.

The full reply and an outline functional requirement can be viewed on the WhatDoTheyKnow website.