Friday, 22 May 2015

Cabinet Member Gambles with Lives of Vulnerable People

For those who did not see the County Council meeting today, there were some probing questions about WSFRS from County Councillors James Walsh and Andy Petch. Unsurprisingly the answers from Cabinet Member David Barling were inadequate and evasive. 

James Walsh pointed out that the Cabinet Member’s report claimed fire deaths had halved since the 1980s, when they are only down by a quarter (average down from 8 to 6 per year). Strangely, David Barling then rambled on saying that fire deaths were not increasing, but were falling. Of course James Walsh had not said they were increasing, he had just highlighted the Cabinet Member’s poor arithmetic. 

The report also claimed that Fire and Rescue’s prevention campaigns were responsible for the reduction, even though the main factors are social, technological and legal changes. Such things as reduced use of open fires, paraffin heaters, chip pans, smoking materials, better means of escape, better furniture and clothing regulations etc. have all had more effect on the number of fire deaths than prevention campaigns have. 

It seems that WSCC try to claim all the credit when there are any improvements, but deny any responsibility when things get worse. As they did when, against the national trend, fire deaths in West Sussex increased every year from 2008/09 to 2013/14. 

Both James Walsh and Andy Petch highlighted the appliance availability problem. Instead of the ‘30 pumps available on a regular basis’ promise, made during the cuts debate, numbers have been much lower, including as low as 16. Andy Petch also referred to the particular problems in Mid Sussex with, on occasions, only one of the eight fire engines having a crew.

David Barling claimed the average is 28 available, and is the same as it was before the cuts. So he has at least admitted that taking wholetime firefighters from wholetime stations to boost crewing at retained stations has had little or no effect. It has of course cut the crews on most wholetime crewed appliances from five to four, making the job more difficult and less safe for them. 

James Walsh also reminded the Cabinet Member that he had said in February that fire engine availability data would be published monthly. He asked why it had not been provided, but got no answer. 

The Cabinet Member’s report said that WSFRS has helped to protect thousands of vulnerable residents with Community Fire Link smoke detectors. Andy Petch pointed out that, even with those alarms, vulnerable residents are still more likely to need rescuing from fires. He asked for an assurance that at least nine firefighters on two pumps would be sent to such calls. He did not get it. 

It seems that David Barling would rather gamble by sending just one pump, hoping that the call is a false alarm. He rambled on about modern radios and said that the officer-in-charge can ask for help if he needs it when he gets there. Completely ignoring of course that this will increase the danger to vulnerable people and to firefighters. 

It is good to see some Councillors continuing to highlight the problems, even if David Barling continues to opt for the see no problem, hear no problem and speak no problem approach.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Gatwick Airport and the Local Authority Fire Service - Some Facts

The discussion on how West Sussex County Council cuts to the fire and rescue service have affected the response to emergencies at Gatwick Airport has thrown up some worrying misconceptions. Not least from County Councillors and, apparently, some fire service officers. This seems to revolve around unrealistic expectations of the airport’s fire and rescue service. Irresponsibly there are those that claim they can deal with any major incident on their own, so let’s look at the facts.

The requirement on the airport operator comes from the Civil Aviation Authority’s ‘CAP 168’, Licensing of Aerodromes, which is based on the International Civil Aviation Organization’s agreed guidance. That says the airport fire service is provided to, “create and maintain survivable conditions, to provide egress routes for occupants and to initiate the rescue of those occupants unable to make their escape without direct aid.”

You will note that for rescue it only requires them to “initiate” rescue. They go on to say that “the saving of those occupants unable to make their escape without direct aid may be a long and arduous task”. They also make clear that on occasions this will involve the use of specialized equipment and personnel not part of the airport fire service. Something that was well illustrated by the Kegworth crash that required over 100 local authority firefighters and 22 fire engines.

That is why there are several references in CAP 168 to “Local Authority Fire Services”. The CAA does not require airports to provide resources to fully deal with crashes, just to provide the immediate response. It even reminds airport operators that, “At all incidents it should be remembered that the Local Authority Fire Service has statutory obligations to fulfil.” Something that West Sussex County Council has tried to ignore.

The emphasis in CAP 168 is on an airport fire service that can arrive quickly and extinguish any fire that results from a crash. The number of vehicles and personnel required are determined by that objective. In some cases that will be sufficient to allow all survivors to escape unaided, but where there is significant damage, then rapid reinforcement of the airport fire service will be essential.

There is no requirement for the airport to have the sort of heavy duty rescue equipment that is carried on the West Sussex Heavy Rescue Tenders (HRT). That is why the failure to ensure that Crawley’s HRT attends warnings of aircraft in trouble is so worrying. Made worse by the fact that, when an alert is received, all the personnel from Crawley are sent on their standard fire engines, which leaves the HRT with no crew. So, if there is a crash, another HRT will have to travel at least 35 miles to the airport.

It also needs to be remembered that there is a busy railway line at the end of the runway. The potential for an aircraft to hit one or more commuter trains is ever present. There could be many hundreds of casualties as a result, yet WSCC’s cuts culture is deemed more important than the survival of passengers and crew in a crash at Gatwick. The reduction in the response to the most serious warning, “Aircraft Accident Imminent”, from 10 to just 6 fire engines is wholly unjustified.

Gatwick Airport, for the most part, meet their obligations under CAP 168. The main concern is that they may not have adjusted their emergency plan to take account of both the cuts and WSCC’s dreadful failure to properly crew their remaining fire engines. With part time crewed fire engines often being unavailable, resources will have to travel much further and take far too long to arrive.

The removal of the HRT and other special vehicles from the response to alerts that aircraft are in trouble flies in the face of proper risk assessment. West Sussex send an Aerial Ladder Platform from Horsham or Worthing to warnings of aircraft in trouble, just in case the aircraft is an A380. That is fair enough, but to not send the HRT that would be essential for a serious crash involving any aircraft suggests a total lack of logic when carrying out risk assessments, or a complete lack of understanding of aircraft crashes.

A Gatwick Airport spokesperson is reported to have said, "Gatwick has its own on-airport fire service that is fully equipped and resourced to deal with major incidents." A spokesperson who clearly has no idea of CAP 168, of the potential scale of an aircraft crash, or of the level of resources at the airport. No doubt WSCC will also soon provide false, unsubstantiated reassurance to the public with yet more ‘spin’.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Election Result Threat to the Fire & Rescue Service

Sad to say that today was bad news for firefighters and the public in need of their help. 

Scaremongering about the SNP dictating to a Labour government has given us the worst of all options. A Conservative Prime Minister held to ransom by far right Tory backbenchers.

The Conservatives want to make it law that essential service strikes must be supported by 40% of those eligible to vote, yet the Conservative Government have been supported by just 24% of those eligible to vote.

Our cock eyed voting system means that a few parties get more seats than their proportion of the votes justifies, whilst several parties get less seats than their proportion of the votes justifies.

More seats than proportion of vote share justifies - Conservative, DUP and SNP.

Less seats than proportion of vote share justifies - Green, Labour, Liberal Democrat, Plaid Cymru and UKIP.

The British people may have spoken, but they have not been heard. 

WSCC has already reduced our fire service resources to pre war levels. Now I fear they will try and take them back even further. We must continue to expose their dangerous cuts. 

Saturday, 2 May 2015


Press Release circulated yesterday:

The West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts group is concerned that survival chances for passengers and crew, in the event of a crash at Gatwick Airport, have been seriously reduced by County Council cuts to the fire service. A spokesperson said, “Not only have the cuts put 800,000 residents in greater danger, but millions of passengers who use the airport each year will be doubly unlucky if they are in a crash at Gatwick”.

The spokesperson continued, “We all hope we are not involved in an aircraft crash, but there are several around the World every year. When it happens we rely on the emergency services arriving quickly to rescue survivors from the wreckage. Sadly the response from West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service is now slower and smaller than ever, despite aircraft now carrying more people”.

The spokesperson added, “The airport is not responsible, as they have an effective fire service, but for crashes they need significant support from local emergency services. The only criticism of the airport is that, according to the County Council, they raised no objections to the cuts[1]”.

Retired Fire Service Operational Planning Officer Tony Morris said, “Not only do the cuts affect survival chances at the airport, but if a plane comes down beyond their very small response area, the airport’s fire service does not respond. Survivors would then be totally reliant on the hopelessly inadequate local fire service response. Firefighters would do their best, but the odds would be stacked against them”

West Sussex County Council cuts include:
  • The two nearest fire engines to the airport could reach the airport in two minutes, but they were removed in the last round of cuts.
  • The next nearest fire engines at Crawley have just been cut from three to two.
  • Response to the most serious category of emergency has been cut from ten fire engines to just six, despite aircraft now carrying more passengers. Other essential specialist vehicles have also been removed from the automatic response.
  • Together with cuts in crew numbers, instead of around 90 firefighters being sent, less than 50 will arrive. Yet they know that at the Kegworth crash in 1989, over 100 hundred firefighters were needed to rescue the 82 injured survivors.
  • The Heavy Rescue Tender, with specialist rescue equipment, is no longer sent when emergencies are declared. Gatwick is now the only international airport in Europe not to get a specialist rescue vehicle from their local fire service when aircraft are in trouble.
  • Even worse, when an emergency is declared the two fire engines from Crawley are sent, but no firefighters are left to crew the Heavy Rescue Tender. If a crash then occurs another vehicle will have to be sent from 35 miles away.
  • Whilst they have stopped sending this rescue vehicle, they do send a high reach aerial appliance, just in case the aircraft is a large Airbus A380. To do that, but not send the rescue vehicle, which would be essential at any crash, makes no sense and indicates that professional judgement is either flawed, or cuts are forcing these dangerous changes.
  • Foam supplies have been removed from the nearest station to the airport and now have to be sent from 50 miles away. Last time these were sent to an emergency at the airport they took over an hour and a quarter to arrive.
  • Inadequate crewing across West Sussex also means that many of the nearest fire engines and support vehicles are often unavailable. As many as 16 of the nearest 22 fire engines have been without crews on occasions, and response times have increased dramatically.
  • At a recent incident in Crawley, cuts and inadequate crew levels showed that the nearest ten fire engines included two from Brighton, nearly 30 miles away. With Gatwick located in the Borough this is a disgraceful level of protection.

Mr Morris concluded, “When early warning is received of an aircraft in serious trouble at Gatwick, the public expect the local fire service to be there with enough resources to give them a good chance of survival. It is shameful that West Sussex County Councillors are failing to ensure that happens.”

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts


Further information

Facebook:        West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts 


1. At all the other airports in the UK that handle the Airbus A380 aircraft, the airport authorities have equipped their own fire service with an aerial appliance. Gatwick rely on the local fire service to send one from Horsham (16 miles away), or from Worthing (35 miles away).

2. The Kegworth Comparison – this crash in 1989 involved 118 passengers, 82 of whom were seriously injured. Their rescue required the airport fire service plus 22 fire engines and over 100 firefighters from local fire services.

The latest aircraft using Gatwick include the Airbus A380, versions of which carry over 550 passengers. Instead of increasing the response to cope with the greater challenge, West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service has quite unprofessionally reduced it to the lowest it has been since the 1950s.

3. Tony Morris responded to the Airports Commission consultation to highlight these problems. A copy of his submission is attached below (Annex 1).

Annex 1

Tony Morris

Important factor omitted from review of possible second runway at Gatwick Airport 

Dear Mr Davies,

I am writing to you as an individual. I am now retired, but was an Emergency Planning Officer for West Sussex County Council (1999 to 2014) and before that the Operational Planning Officer for West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (1993 to 1999). In both posts I worked closely with other emergency services and the airport operator on planning for all types of major emergency at Gatwick.

There appears to have been an important omission in the debate regarding a possible second runway at Gatwick Airport. That omission concerns consideration of the ability of hospitals, the emergency services, local authorities etc. to cope with an aircraft accident, or other major incident at the Airport.

I believe this aspect is even more vital than the infrastructure to support the airport. It is becoming increasingly clear that these services are less well able to respond to an incident at Gatwick than previously, primarily as a result of budget cuts. Whilst I am less familiar with their ability at Heathrow, I believe they have significantly more resources close to the airport. In addition, whereas West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (WSFRS) has removed the two nearest fire engines to Gatwick and intend to remove the third nearest, London Fire Brigade has increased resources in the vicinity of Heathrow. The attached maps illustrate the disparity between the airports with regard to the location of supporting fire stations.

It is quite clear that the ambulance service and hospitals in Sussex are struggling to cope with winter pressures, so their potential to also cope with hundreds of casualties from an air crash must be in serious doubt. Sussex Police have also suffered staffing cuts that affect their ability to deal with major emergencies. The ability of West Sussex County Council's Social Care department to provide support to uninjured survivors and relatives of the injured or deceased is another vital service that has been affected by budget cuts. 

The latest aircraft using Gatwick include the Airbus A380, versions of which carry over 550 passengers. When you consider that the aircraft involved in the Kegworth air crash in 1989 was only carrying 118 passengers, you get an idea of the significantly greater demand on local services if a larger aircraft crashes at Gatwick. At Kegworth 82 people were seriously injured and it took over seven hours to free them all from the wreckage. The local authority fire service needed 22 fire engines and over 100 firefighters at the incident.

It should also be borne in mind that the Civil Aviation Authority say that planning should consider more than one aircraft being involved in an accident, and the surroundings of the Airport should also be taken in to account. With a busy commuter line at the end of the runway, an aircraft collision with a crowded commuter train must also be considered. Casualties could run in to the thousands at Gatwick.

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service's cuts and crewing difficulties have made the fire and rescue service much less able to cope than in previous years. The well publicised emergency landing at Gatwick Airport at the end of December showed that, instead of resources increasing to cope with increased risk, they have actually been reduced. The time taken to get resources to the airport has increased significantly, as they have to be sent from stations much further away. The proposed 2015-16 cuts will make this even worse.

When aircraft carried fewer passengers, WSFRS were able to get the full response to the airport by sending fire engines from fire stations that were within 13 miles of the airport. At the 29th December 2014 incident, despite having reduced the scale of the response, it had to come from fire stations up to 40 miles from the Airport. A special vehicle carrying foam, that used to be at the nearest fire station to the airport, took an hour and a quarter to arrive in December. A specialist rescue vehicle is no longer sent automatically, because of crewing shortages. If an aircraft does crash, then that rescue vehicle will have to be sent from at least 30 miles away.  With the potential for several hundred trapped and injured casualties, that is just not acceptable.

Please note that the Airport Fire Service depend heavily on support from WSFRS. The Airport Fire Service is only required to provide a full response to crashed aircraft within the airport boundary, and a reduced response to crashed aircraft very near to the airport. Beyond that small area, the survival of casualties is wholly dependent on an increasingly under resourced local authority fire and rescue service.

This situation is unacceptable for one runway, but I appreciate that is beyond your control. However, recommending a second runway at Gatwick would increase capacity and the likelihood of an accident. To do so, whilst aware of the poor state of the local services to respond, would seem most unwise.

I would urge you to properly consider this aspect before deciding on your recommendation regarding Airport expansion.

Yours sincerely,
Tony Morris

Proximity of fire stations



Please note that Surrey Fire & Rescue Service are building a fire station at Salfords, for one fire engine, about five miles from the Airport.

[1] Report by Executive Director Communities, Public Protection and Chief Fire Officer – “The Service has met with the Gatwick Airport Fire Service Manager, who raised no objections to the proposals".