It was no joke on April 1st when 5 fire engines, 21 Full-time firefighters and 15 Part-time firefighters were removed from fire stations.
Initial indications are, as predicted, that some responses are taking much longer than before. Fire engines are also now being regularly sent out with just four firefighters on them, instead of five.
This limits the actions that the crew can take when they arrive. It also means firefighters may be forced to take greater risks, or leave the public in danger until reinforcements arrive. Training is also limited with only four firefighters on duty.
The Council’s own prediction is that an extra life will be lost every other year, and there will be an extra £80,000 property damage each year as a result of these cuts.
False Council Claims
You may have read claims in local papers that the service “won’t be downgraded in any way”. That is a dishonest claim, especially when their own predictions were for more deaths and property damage as a result.
Claims that the resources required “will be sent out” is very misleading. They may be sent, but they will often have to travel further, take longer to arrive and expose the public and firefighters to greater danger.
Nearly 2,000 people have signed the ‘Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex’ petition, with more names on petition forms waiting to be returned and counted.
We are very grateful to those who have worked hard collecting names. It is very clear that not only are people appalled by the cuts, many were totally unaware that they were being implemented.
If you still have completed, or partially completed, petition forms please return them (to arrive no later than 24th April) to: “Fire Cuts Petition, 48 Little Breach, Chichester, PO19 5TY.”
Names can still be added via the internet on the WSCC Epetition page - “Stop fire engine and firefighter cuts in West Sussex”
Delays at Horsham Fire
Had this fire been before the cuts, two fire engines would have arrived in around five minutes.
However, one of them was removed on 1st April, so a second fire engine had to come from Crawley. This took three times longer to arrive.
Worthing Full-time Crews Moved from the Town
The number of times full-time crews have been sent out of the town to cover crew shortages at other stations has increased. That leaves Worthing reliant on their part-time crew and on firefighters from other stations, which takes longer.
In March a disabled Worthing woman had to wait 9 minutes for rescue after Worthing’s full-time crews had been sent to cover rural areas. Worthing’s part-time crew and crews from Littlehampton and Shoreham were sent to the fire.
New Group Won’t Meet Crewing Need at Part-time Stations
The claim is that they will be used, “as and when they are needed”. However the reality is that these firefighters, who were removed from busy fire stations, only work daytimes, Monday to Friday. Weekend and night-time needs are ignored.
Last weekend, despite frantic attempts to persuade part-time firefighters to work overtime, only 19 of the 35 fire engines were available for long periods. It is clear evidence of the woeful and ongoing failure of the County Council and Fire Service management to provide enough firefighters to protect the people of West Sussex.
No fire engines were crewed at Arundel, East Preston, East Wittering, Haywards Heath, Hurstpierpoint, Lancing, Partridge Green, Shoreham, Steyning and Turners Hill.
In addition, the second fire engines at Bognor Regis, Burgess Hill and East Grinstead were without crews. Not forgetting of course that, since 2010, a total of eleven fire engines, that could have been available, have been removed by the County Council.
No Improvement at Petworth
More false claims in this article, which said “We are posting six whole-time firefighters in Petworth, working Monday to Friday.”
This has not happened and, since the cuts took effect, Petworth’s only remaining proper fire engine has been without a crew during the day, Monday to Friday!
The Water Carrier, which is not new, has been moved from Littlehampton where crewing was not a problem. However, Petworth has crewing difficulties, so there is no guarantee that the Water Carrier, one of only two in the County, will be available when required.
It is also now further away from the areas it is most used in, so will take longer to get to many calls. If they can crew it, there will often not be enough firefighters left to crew their fire engine, so residents will have to wait for help from other towns.
Missing 4x4 Vehicles
For nearly a year County Councillors have been claiming that new 4x4 vehicles would mitigate the effects of removing fire engines from Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington, that they would be in place in 2015, and even that they were being trialled.
Yet a Freedom of Information reply last month revealed this was untrue. They were not being trialled, no decision had been made on the vehicles to be bought, and there is no business case to support their purchase.
New 4x4s are being ‘spun’ as some great improvement, when in fact it is nothing more than part of the normal vehicle replacement programme.
The official response from WSFRS said no decision had been made on where the new 4x4s would go and the first could not be delivered before 2016. They also keep adding to the equipment load, which could see the 4x4s too big to access areas the current 4x4s can or, if the vehicles are small, they may be overloaded.
Crawley & Gatwick
Crawley has been particularly badly hit by cuts. From four full-time and one part-time crewed fire engines in 2010, the Borough now only has two full-time crewed fire engines. This is the worst ratio of fire engines to population and to incidents attended of any area in West Sussex.
This also has serious consequences for the response to any aircraft accident at Gatwick. Crawley can no longer crew both fire engines and the specialist rescue vehicle and new procedures mean that, if an accident occurred, a recue vehicle would have to travel from Worthing.
Crewing failures during a recent fire highlighted this vulnerability when only 6 of the nearest 22 West Sussex fire engines were available. Had this been a large fire in Crawley, and ten fire engines had been needed, most would have come from Surrey and East Sussex, including two from Brighton.
The Political View
This group has no political agenda and our only concern is public safety. However, it has become very clear that the cuts are political.
Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat, and UKIP County Councillors have all seen the dangers of these cuts, but Conservative Councillors have steadfastly stuck to the party line and cut frontline services.
Local MPs have taken no action to ensure we are protected and Government Ministers have steadfastly refused to do their primary duty and protect lives
Parliamentary Candidates in the May General Election have stated their support for the fight against these cuts, including Green Party, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Patria, UKIP & Independent candidates, but no Conservatives.
"It is the job of politicians to serve the public they represent. I believe that forcing swinging cuts on an emergency service is contrary to this." - Jasper Richmond
Green Party candidate for Chichester
“I agree with your concerns and support you all whole heartedly.” - Hazel Thorpe
Liberal Democrat candidate for Worthing West.
Sussex Police Cuts
After a public meeting with the Chief Constable and the Police & Crime Commissioner, we were struck by how different the approach taken by the Police was, compared to that taken by the County Council on fire service cuts. In particular, they were very open and honest about the effect of the cuts.
The P&CC said her residents came before her political party policy, and she had already given the public the option to increase tax to protect services. The Chief Constable said how emergency response would be protected, with the same number of officers. It would even be improved by providing new technology to avoid the need to return to police stations to complete paperwork.
This contrasts starkly with West Sussex County Council’s approach of hiding details of the worst effects, making false claims, holding a sham consultation that had no alternatives, and ignoring all concerns and views.
Manhood Peninsula Left With No Fire Engine
Once again, on the 7th April, Selsey had the only fire engine available on the Manhood Peninsula, but the part-time firefighters were called in and sent to Midhurst to protect the Midhurst and Petworth areas. This was done despite a full-time and part-time crew being available at both Chichester and Bognor Regis.
Usually, professional Control Room Staff would move a fire engine from a station that had two available, so that they maintain the best distribution of fire engines for a speedy response. However, WSFRS have ignored best practice and told them not to, so that the full-time crews can do other, non-emergency response work!
Part-time Firefighter Comment - “My boss doesn’t object when I am called away for local fires, but he is not happy when I leave work to sit at another fire station for hours on end.”
Serving firefighters fear for their jobs if they comment on the cuts publicly. Among the comments made to this group in confidence are:
“Morale 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”. (Note - Shouts are a fire service term for incidents)
County Council Dirty Tricks
There have been disgraceful attempts to suggest this group has provided inaccurate and false information, and that some people have ‘other agendas’.
Most of the information used by this group has come from the County Council or from Government Departments. We have provided it in good faith and are not responsible if the Council and Government figures differ. Other information has come from the media, or from firefighters and has been checked wherever possible. In fact we have heard some quite serious allegations, but have not repeated them as they have been uncorroborated.
We are, however, aware of false and inaccurate information being given to the public, the media, to MPs and to County Councillors by WSCC and WSFRS. Examples include figures for fire deaths provided to County Councillors being different to those provided under a Freedom of Information request, and claims that fire engines were being moved when they are actually being cut. Despite claims from the Leader of the Council that the Council is open and transparent, we have encountered a reluctance to provide information and even had Freedom of Information requests refused on technicalities.
As for other agendas, that is simply a lie. All those associated with this group have genuine concerns for public safety. For many that is based on years of experience as firefighters, both full-time and part-time in West Sussex. We are not ‘butterfly’ officers flitting from service to service to further our careers. Most of us have lived and worked in West Sussex for many years, we know the risks, we know the people and we know how damaging these cuts will be.
Those on the group who have not been in the fire service are concerned citizens who, like many West Sussex residents, have seen through the spin and are not prepared to stand idly by and watch a once fine Fire & Rescue Service downgraded for political reasons.
Public and Former Firefighter Comments
“Cutting the fire service is ridiculous, is the Council stupid?”
“I knew nothing about taking our fire engine away.”
“It is disgraceful that cuts are being made at ground floor, but I still see new officer cars that could be a lot smaller and more cost effective.”
“I am just sick of officers giving the public a load of BS.”
“There is a dire need for a review of the existing availability system which appears to work against having pumps on the run.” (Fire engines available)
“Our firefighters are wonderful”
“Why should I get a worse service, just because I live in the country?”
“That is stupid, we need our fire engines."
We have been asked why we do not get the media to correct the Council’s spin and "get the truth out there". The simple answer is we have been, but for whatever reasons a number of press releases and letters have not been used. We understand the media have many pressures and conflicting priorities, especially the local press, but firefighters and others concerned about the cuts have said that the reporting seems unbalanced.
Whilst claims from the County Council have had wide coverage, with few if any probing questions from the media, views of those opposed to the cuts have had only limited coverage. The Council has also been given a right of reply to all of our statements, but we have not been asked for our views on their claims.
Among press releases issued by the group are:
· Appalling lack of fire cover in West Sussex - Recent fires in Crawley and Worthing expose serious failures to properly crew fire engines in the County.
· False 4x4 claims - Claims by the Fire & Rescue Service, following the recent Ambersham Common fire, are “window dressing to cover up cuts”.
· Fire proves that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service has been downgraded & firefighters are incensed by false claims from senior officers about cuts that took effect on the 1st April.
There have been some notable exceptions, and we are grateful to those in the media who have tried to report both sides of the debate on these dangerous cuts. All we can do is assure those who are concerned that we have engaged, and will continue to engage, with the media. We will provide the information, but can only hope that they will help to ensure that the public learn the truth.
There has been a lot of hype from the County Council about fewer fires and that we are all safer.
The reality is that, despite some improvements, many fires, crashes and other incidents still occur. Even well maintained fire stations can catch fire, as happened at Arundel.
Only this week ten fire engines were needed at a major fire in Chichester. This highlights the need for adequate resources. The cuts have seriously reduced the service’s ability to respond to large incidents, to storms & floods, to simultaneous incidents, as well as increasing the response time to many incidents.
Real Deterioration in the Protection of West Sussex Residents
These are screen shots from the Fire Service Crew Availability System, sent to us by concerned insiders. Standard Fire Engines are shown with a ‘P’ in their identification. Green if crewed (eg 42P2) and black if not (eg 60P1).
The fifth one, removed from Horsham, was actually busy and attended over 600 calls in 2013/14. The part-time crew that will now take their place are often not available (Only 52% available in 2013/14).
Before the cuts
You will notice that the five fire engines being removed in April were crewed and available on the evening of 31st March.
Yes, there were occasions that four of them could not be crewed, but when they were they helped save lives and property. Now they are unavailable permanently.
After the cuts
Despite assurances that there would be little or no effect, this sample screen shot for the evening of 4th April shows how much worse things are now.
Five fewer fire engines to be crewed and ten of those left were without crews.
2010 – 46 fire engines
2015 – 35 fire engines
Firefighter Comment: “Senior Managers are ignoring Standard Operating Procedures that are meant to keep us safe”
Join the discussion on Facebook: West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts
Freedom of Information Requests at: WhatDoTheyKnow