So, according to a senior fire officer on 1st April, the service will not be downgraded in any way. Within days though, a serious fire in the centre of Horsham has demonstrated that this is untrue. Unless Conservative County Councillors reverse the cuts and properly protect people in the County, this will be the first of many downgraded responses across West Sussex.
The serious fire in the historic centre of Horsham broke out during a major public event. Instead of two fire engines arriving quickly from Horsham, there was only one. The Council has removed the second wholetime crewed fire engine and there was no crew for the other fire engine crewed by part time firefighters. The vital second fire engine had to be sent from Crawley and took much longer to arrive.
Firefighters are angry about misleading reports in the media and frustrated that they cannot comment. So here are a few of those comments:
“Moral within the ranks is shockingly poor”.
“They keep talking about prevention being important, but they have just cut hundreds of hours from our prevention work”.
“Saying we were consulted is a joke. They didn't listen, my shift system has been changed and child care now costs me more. It’s worse for others, some have been moved and others have had their pay cut.”
"Bosses are claiming things are good but they are not"
“We are being forced to ride with crews of only four, which means we can’t do all the jobs needed at shouts, unless we take more risks”.
West Sussex County Council set out to deceive the public by suggesting the cuts would be harmless, even though they knew there would be extra deaths and property damage. It is clear they are continuing the deception with more half-truths and misdirection. Sending the required resources is not enough if they take longer to arrive. That is clearly a life threatening downgrade.
The Assistant Chief Fire Officer has apparently said that the emphasis was ‘solely on response’, when he joined in 1989. You have to wonder if he was wearing blinkers or if he started with the Trumpton Fire Brigade. I joined in 1967 and the emphasis across the UK then was on both prevention and response, and has been ever since. You only have to look at West Sussex in 1981. Prevention posts had been cut the year before to save money (sadly familiar story), but they still carried out nearly twice as many prevention activities as they attended incidents.
Claims that there will be more retained firefighters are also ridiculous as they have cut 15 retained firefighter posts. There are no extra ones. Even claims that more fire engines will be available are false. I have been sent evidence that reveals that on the Thursday morning before the cuts there were just 22 fire engines available, but on the Thursday after the cuts that was down to only 20.
The County Council has put West Sussex residents in greater danger and ignored the many valid objections to these cuts. Over 1,700 have signed the "Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex" petition on the WSCC Epetitions website, and I would urge more to do so. Please share this with friends, family and work colleagues in West Sussex.