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.”