Friday, 31 July 2015

Does the Fire & Rescue Service know about this 'Customer Promise', or do they just ignore it?

I was intrigued today to receive an invitation from West Sussex County Council to provide feedback on their 'Customer Promise'. For those who have not heard of it, it includes promises to make it easy to get information, to be friendly and helpful, to be honest and trustworthy, and to value your feedback.

Anyone who has followed the discussion on cuts to the Fire & Rescue Service might be forgiven for thinking that this promise was unknown to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, despite them being a department of West Sussex County Council.

I have certainly found it difficult to get the right information, as illustrated by my having to submit two appeals to the Information Commissioner after Freedom of Information requests were refused. I should have both decisions in a month or so.

In case anyone else would like to give feedback to WSCC, the survey is at:

I should add that I have now had to request an internal review on my FOI request, submitted in February, for information on what Cabinet Member David Barling referred to as "super duper new 4x4" vehicles. The reasons for the review are:

"I have not been provided with all the requested information. In addition, despite Mr Coleman saying in his reply dated 23 June 2015, “If you have any queries about this reply, please contact me”, my queries submitted in response have not been answered. In particular:
  • Details of the equipment to be carried, both on the vehicles all the time, and occasionally in pods, has not been provided.
  • WSFRS reports on the outcome of the vehicle trials, during the research and evaluation process, have not been supplied. The claim that such information is commercially sensitive is not valid.
  • No business case has been provided. The original reply said that “would be written once the research is finished.” The latest reply changed that to saying that the business case was in the ‘Fundamental Fire and Rescue Review’. I have neither received, nor requested, that document and its provision under FOI is outstanding.
  • It also appears from WSFRS social media that, as well as the 6x6 Mercedes Benz Sprinter, WSFRS has a 4x4 Mercedes Benz Sprinter in build. No details of this vehicle have been supplied, despite it being clearly covered by the FOI request."
You can read the history of this request at WhatDoTheyKnow.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Crawley firefighters get new £280,000 fire engine

Crawley firefighters get new £280,000 fire engine with more powerful hoses and bigger water tank

Whilst it is very good to see that replacement fire engines are being provided by the County Council, this story hides the serious deterioration in fire cover in West Sussex.

New vehicles, such as this, do bring some benefits for certain incidents, but in no way do they compensate for the Council's cuts to fire engines and firefighters in Crawley. Before 2010 there were five fire engines and crews in the Borough, now there are just two. Before 2010 at least two simultaneous emergencies could be dealt with by those resources. Now, when there is a building fire in the town, anyone else needing help in Crawley has to wait for help to arrive from towns several miles away. Simultaneous calls are not uncommon, especially in Crawley, and the delayed response to those calls increases the risk to life and to property. 

Cabinet Member David Barling should remember the words of his predecessor, Lionel Barnard, 'it is not fire engines that put fires out, it is firefighters'. Not only has the total number of firefighters in Crawley been drastically cut, but the number on each fire engine has been cut. That significantly restricts what the first crew can do until more fire engines and firefighters arrive. It also reduces firefighter safety, by putting pressure on them to act without adequate resources. 

Replacing fire engines with ones fitted with the latest technology is to be welcomed, but our safety also depends on sufficient fire engines and firefighters being available. County Council cuts and their failure to ensure that all fire engines are crewed around the clock has made West Sussex, and Crawley in particular, less safe.