Saturday, 26 September 2015

Deciphering the Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service Proposals (Cuts)

In case anyone is in danger of being seduced by the reassuring platitudes in the cynically named “Planning for a safer Hampshire”, or the sound bites from Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service officers, here are some facts.

Response times will stay the same or improve
A deception, as the current response time is for proper fire engines with crews of at least four firefighters. Future response times will often be for a converted van with just two firefighters. The response time for a proper fire engine, with a proper crew, will be significantly longer for incidents right across Hampshire.
Smaller vehicles can deal with 70% of incidents
They have not mentioned that the 30% that they cannot deal with will be the most serious and most life threatening incidents. They don’t mention that full crews on proper fire engines can deal with, or initiate significant action at, 100% of calls. They don’t mention that calls from the public do not always report the nature of the emergency accurately, and they do not always report its severity properly. Firefighters arriving in response to a call to a rubbish or a chimney fire can find it is actually a building on fire.
We refuse to compromise the safety of Hampshire residents
Fine words, but they have to be compromising safety by replacing fully equipped and crewed fire engines with inferior vehicles and inadequate crews. They must also be compromising safety by increasing response times for a response that is capable of dealing with incidents.
We refuse to compromise the safety of our firefighters
The proposals represent an appalling breach of trust on the part of fire & rescue service managers. By sending an inferior vehicle, carrying just two firefighters, they know that at some point those firefighters will be faced with an impossible dilemma. The choice between helping the distraught parents of trapped children, by entering a burning building to try and save them, or of following fire & rescue service instructions and waiting until more firefighters arrive from the next town. Any self-respecting firefighter will take the extra risk to try and save a life and managers know that. Yet they are cynically creating a situation where, if the firefighters succeed they will be praised, but if not they will be condemned for breaking the rules. That is a disgrace.
We are committed to being one of the best fire & rescue services in the country
They say that because they know it sounds reassuring. However, the best fire & rescue services in the country have proper fire engines with five or six firefighters on each. Hampshire will mostly have converted vans with just two firefighters on them, so they know they have no chance of achieving this commitment
It’s really important that we meet the needs of the communities of Hampshire
It is important, but they know they cannot, or will not do that. They say it to deceive people in to thinking that they will listen to what the public want. They know most people will want proper fire engines with full crews, but they have no intention of providing that to everyone. Many communities will end up with a second or third class service.
Ensuring that we match resources to the risks
The risk of people losing their lives in a fire or accident, or of losing their home or business, exists in every part of Hampshire. No matter where they live, people deserve the same level of resources coming to their aid quickly. Unfortunately the fire & rescue service are ignoring the real risk and cutting resources. The most severe cuts are in rural areas where the risk to the individual is actually greater, because it already takes firefighters longer to get there. Just because calls are less frequent in those areas, as there are fewer people, does not reduce the risk to those people. The risk of death for people in rural areas and across Hampshire at night will increase if these proposals are implemented.
There has been a significant reduction in the number of emergency incidents attended
They did not increase resources when the number of incidents doubled, trebled and even quadrupled, but they are dishonestly using the recent reduction to justify cuts. Even though there are still twice as many calls as in the 1950s and 1960s, when there were more fire engines and more firefighters available. No fire service has ever decided how many fire engines to provide, and where they should be based, simply on the number of calls expected. Those decisions have always been taken to ensure that fire engines can reach anywhere quickly, and so that larger fires and simultaneous incidents can be properly resourced.
The latest technology to save lives and protect property across Hampshire. 
They know that it is firefighters that save lives, not technology, but technology sounds impressive. They hope that people will not realise that cutting crew sizes will endanger public and firefighter lives.
A smaller vehicle that could make a hole in the wall of a burning room, and we would be able to pump water in straight away. This would make it safer for people inside
The equipment has its uses, but the claim that it will help save lives is a deception. The high pressure, abrasive lance, which cuts through concrete, is actually hazardous to people inside. The manufacturers have many years of reports on the effectiveness of their equipment from fire services across Europe. They have confirmed that none of those reports records people inside, or firefighter lives being saved with this equipment. They also don’t mention that responsible fire services add this equipment to their fire engines, so that crews have a range of options available to them. They don’t stick it on vans as a substitute for proper fire engines.
Our standard fire engines (with crews of four to six firefighters) are not always the most appropriate response
They are the most appropriate response, because they can cope with whatever they find when they arrive. Unfortunately, they want to gamble with firefighter and public safety by sending vehicles with less water, equipment and firefighters that will often prove to be totally inadequate for the incident they are faced with.
We propose to introduce four crewing models to effectively match the risk of our stations
They misuse the term ‘risk’, when they are actually talking about frequency of calls. If your home catches fire in a busy station area, you may get a proper fire engine with five firefighters on it arriving quickly, but if it catches fire in a quieter station area you may just get a van with two firefighters on it. But don’t worry, they will be able to hold your hand whilst you all wait for a proper fire engine to arrive from a fire station further away.
More staff on duty when we need them, and less during the periods of lower activity
Periods of lower activity require exactly the same number of firefighters to attend incidents, as they do during busy periods. They want you to think that, miraculously, incidents are somehow less severe during periods of lower activity. They are not. In fact they are often more severe in the quiet early hours, because no one sees the fire until it becomes a serious one, so more resources are required, not less.
Incident statistics
The incident figures shown for each station are quite misleading, as they do not show the actual workload for each fire station. They don’t show calls to standby at other stations, relief crew calls, or calls in to neighbouring counties. They also don’t show the community safety and prevention work that the crews do. Emsworth for example are shown as attending 66 incidents in 2013/14. No over the border incidents are shown, yet in 2014/15 Emsworth attended 55 incidents in West Sussex. They also provided cover at West Sussex fire stations on 19 occasions.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

County Councillors again try to ignore Fire & Rescue Service concerns

Once again County Councillor Margaret Evans, tried to stop me speaking during the “tell us your concerns” section of the Chichester South County Local Committee meeting last evening. My concern – the effect on parts of West Sussex of Hampshire Fire Authority cuts. I refused to be bullied and reminded her that this is a matter that directly affects people in the Committee’s area.

After explaining the dangers for West Sussex residents, I asked a question, “Following the closure of Bosham fire station, the reduction of fire engines in West Sussex from 46 to 35, and the 7% increase in building fires in West Sussex last year, how will you, as County Councillors, ensure that there is adequate protection for the Chichester South area, if Hampshire cuts go ahead?”

Her answer - Well I am not a fire officer, so that would have to be up to the fire officer, so I can’t really deal with that.

Leader of the Council, Louise Goldsmith, then said, “May I also suggest that we do not comment on other authorities, because we just don’t do that.” She later said, “Our Chief Fire Officer advises us accordingly, and as a professional we take his advice”.

They both also insisted that I should respond direct to the Hampshire consultation. Fortunately though there were some voices of reason and concern at the meeting.

County Councillor Sandra James said, “It’s pretty outrageous, as I sit on this panel, to listen to the leader and the chair say it’s not our business. She spoke about how important Emsworth and Havant fire crews were to the people in her division. She also asked for the Chief Fire Officer to provide her with the information she had requested, and for a link to the Hampshire consultation to be provided on the West Sussex County Council website.

She received no answer from the Chairman or the Council Leader to the first question, and it also became clear that they are not going to put a link on their website. The Chairman of Westbourne Parish Council, who said they are just one metre from Hampshire, pointed out that other parishes are unaware of the “serious changes that will have dire effects on our families”. His call for a link on the West Sussex website was also ignored.

So what does this say about the ruling group on the County Council?

1. They ignore their legal responsibility to ensure that West Sussex residents are properly protected.
2. They accept the advice of the Chief Fire Officer without checking if it is good or bad advice.
3. They dismiss anyone who dares to suggest that the advice they are given may not be in the best interests of West Sussex residents.
4. They won’t express any concern to the Hampshire Fire Authority, “because we just don’t do that.”
5. They bury their heads in the sand and cross their fingers, instead of properly reviewing the operation of the Fire & Rescue Service in West Sussex.

How bad will things have to get before they begin to carry out their responsibilities properly?

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Serious Fire Highlights Loss of Fire Engines

Last night’s serious fire in Bognor Regis is an important reminder of the need for adequate resources. The fire needed eleven standard fire engines from Bognor Regis (2), Chichester (2), Littlehampton (2), East Preston, Arundel, Havant (Hampshire), Worthing and Midhurst

The 1978 Woolworth store fire in Bognor Regis required 32 standard fire engines to contain and extinguish it, and it provides an interesting comparison when you compare resources available then and now.

Removed since 1978 have been the Hydraulic Platform from Chichester, and fire engines from Bognor Regis (3rd), Bosham (station closed), East Preston (2nd), Midhurst (2nd), Petworth (2nd), Storrington (2nd), Lancing (2nd), Findon (station closed), Keymer (station closed), Horley (both fire engines removed), and Crawley (3rd).

Hampshire fire engines involved at the Woolworth incident, or standing by for other calls at West Sussex stations, were Emsworth, Cosham x 2, Havant x 2, Waterlooville, Petersfield, Fareham, and Portchester. Drastic cuts are of course now planned for these stations.

The Fire & Rescue Service keep using a recent drop in incidents to falsely justify cuts, so when thinking about resources that have been removed, it is worth remembering that in 1978 there were just 5,654 incidents in West Sussex. In 2013-14 there were 9,337 incidents, which is 40% more. Resources were not improved when calls increased, they have just been progressively cut.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Hampshire Fire Cuts Threaten West Sussex Residents

This photo is a stark reminder of why we need a speedy response by full crews on proper fire engines. 

A news release has now been issued:

Fire service cuts campaigners are warning that West Sussex residents, who live near the Hampshire border, will face increased dangers from an inadequate fire service response. West Sussex County Council pay Hampshire Fire Authority to deal with emergencies in that area, because their fire stations are nearer. Hampshire Fire Authority now say they plan to remove SEVEN of the NINE fire engines nearest to the West Sussex border and replace them with inadequate vehicles.

Two of those vehicles will be ‘Intermediate Vehicles’, which are small Fire Engines carrying less water, less equipment and less firefighters. The other five will only be ‘First Response Vehicles’, which carry even less water, less equipment and less firefighters. Instead of four to six firefighters on a proper fire engine, these will respond with as few as two firefighters.

Speaking for campaigners, retired firefighter Tony Morris said, “That may be OK for a dustbin fire, but for building fires these inadequate crews will only be able to watch and wait for help to arrive on proper fire engines. Many residents, in an area that includes Southbourne, West Marden, South Harting, Rogate, Milland and Linchmere, will be left with a second or third class service from Hampshire”.

Mr Morris urged people to respond to the Hampshire consultation, which is due to start on 14 September. He said, “This is a double blow for residents in this area after Bosham fire station was closed and second fire engines were removed from Midhurst and Petworth. Hampshire fire engines often provide support in the Midhurst, Chichester and Manhood areas, so proper resources will take longer to arrive there too. West Sussex County Council must also tell residents how they will properly protect people living in these areas, if Hampshire make these cuts”.

Commenting on Hampshire Fire Authority claims that “the safety of the public and our firefighters remains our absolute priority”, Mr Morris said, “It is rather like listening to ‘Del Boy’ on his market stall describing inferior goods as the ‘bees knees’. The difference of course is that one may see you waste your money on faulty goods, the other may cost you your home, your business, or your life.”

West Sussex Fire & Rescue Stop the Cuts

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Hampshire Cuts Put West Sussex Residents In Danger

I have just looked at the ludicrous Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service proposals for stations that usually cover parts of West Sussex. Places such as Southbourne, Westbourne, West Marden, South Harting, Rogate and Milland all get the normal first response to emergencies from Hampshire fire stations. 

West Sussex also relies heavily on Hampshire fire engines for support at incidents in the Bosham, Chichester, East Wittering, Selsey and Midhurst areas.

Not only will all the stations near the West Sussex border lose firefighters, but seven fire engines will be replaced with inferior vehicles. 

The vehicles to be provided are:

1. Enhanced Vehicle (EV) - Proper Fire Engine.

2. Intermediate Vehicle (IV) - Small Fire Engine (less water, less equipment, less crew, less effective).

3. First Response Vehicle (FRV) - Inadequate Fire Engine (even less water, equipment, and crew who will often only be able to watch and wait for help, but Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service will shamefully claim that they met their response target).

There will only be two proper fire engines instead of nine on our border. One at Havant and one at Petersfield. There will also be at least 22 fewer part time firefighters at these stations.

The details are:
Emsworth – Fire Engine replaced with a First Response Vehicle 
Havant - will lose one Fire Engine to be replaced with a First Response Vehicle.
Horndean - Fire Engine replaced with an Intermediate Vehicle.
Petersfield - will lose one fire engine to be replaced with a First Response Vehicle.
Liphook - Fire Engine replaced with a First Response Vehicle.
Bordon - Fire Engine replaced with an Intermediate Vehicle.
Grayshott - Fire Engine replaced with a First Response Vehicle.

The proposals can be summed up as, if your dustbin catches fire they will send the resources required to deal with it as quickly as now, or perhaps a minute or two quicker

BUT, if your home or business is on fire, or if you are trapped, they will take much longer than now to get the essential resources to you to save your life and your property . 

Saving life is no longer given the priority it was, and should be, by Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service and West Sussex residents will suffer as a result.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Cuts Will Cost Lives

This is what Councillors seem oblivious to and senior officers seem to have forgotten about. 

This rescue in Suffolk at the weekend involved two ladders, at least six firefighters engaged in the rescue and at least eleven firefighters at the incident when the rescue was carried out. 

Crews of four don't cut it and Hampshire's proposed crews of two in a van are a sick joke.
Incidents like this don't happen every day, but no one knows where or when they will happen. 

There is absolutely no doubt, cutting resources will cost lives. Well done to the firefighters involved.
If further confirmation that cuts cost lives is required, just read this:

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Cuts spread over the border and the Shoreham Air Show crash

It is a while since I posted on this blog, but rest assured that campaigning has continued. I will comment more on that in future posts soon, but I first wanted to mention the latest situation in neighbouring Hampshire. I am also aware of some speculation circulating on the West Sussex response to the Shoreham Air Show crash, so I want to try and help clarify the situation.

Hampshire - It seems that the people of Hampshire are also to have their fire service downgraded. Just as in West Sussex their senior officers are rolling out the same sound bites that may sound reassuring to the public, but are at best misleading and at worst dishonest.

Nonsense about ‘the risk has changed’, when houses still catch fire, vehicles still crash and people still need rescuing. ‘The number of fires has reduced’, when that has never been a factor in determining the number of fire appliances and fire fighters required. This is not about how many people and assembly lines you need in a factory to produce ‘x’ products. Fire cover provision has always been based on the need to ensure a speedy response to any location and to allow for major incidents and several calls occurring at the same time.

The biggest obscenity is that they ignore the fact that fire cover standards and adequate crewing levels developed after many deaths of both firefighters and the public. Now, to suit the demands of their masters, senior officers disgrace their uniforms by putting their own careers before public and firefighter safety.

I realise that they have to follow instructions, but why can’t they show the courage and integrity of many of their predecessors and stand up for public safety and stand up for their firefighters? If only they could be honest about the effect of cuts and tell Councillors that longer response times will result in more deaths and more property damage. I know – pigs might fly!

Shoreham Air Show - This crash was truly horrifying and has touched many thousands of people. The friends and families of those involved should be first in all our thoughts. It was a tragic reminder of the vital need for our emergency services and of the challenges they face. There was no lack of courage or integrity shown by the firefighters and other emergency service personnel who responded.

I mentioned speculation about the response, so would like to report what I have been told by several reliable sources. A part-time crew from Worthing was first on scene, as they were on a fire engine parked up near the entrance to the airport. They were not in that location, as suggested in the press, to cover the event, but they had been called in and sent to the Shoreham area to try and cover the lack of crews for fire engines at Lancing, Shoreham and Steyning.

As far as the crash was concerned, it was pure chance that they were in that precise location and were able to be on scene immediately. It was also extremely good fortune that they themselves were not struck by the aircraft. A slightly different trajectory and it could have been a different story. 

Next on scene were the airport's own fire engines, quickly followed by the private fire engines and crews hired in by the organisers especially for the event. West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service do not provide fire engines or firefighters for the event. The only involvement is the provision of an officer to the event control, in line with Air Show event guidelines. I also understand that West Sussex County Council  charge the charity for that officer’s attendance.

West Sussex FRS and East Sussex FRS attended the crash with crews from Hove (2), Brighton (2), Worthing (2), Littlehampton (2, including 1 from standby at Henfield), Selsey (from standby at Storrington) and Bognor Regis, plus special vehicles and personnel from the Technical Rescue Unit.

On this occasion there is nothing to suggest that the lack of crews at several stations in the area, or the longer response times, affected the outcome. Again, that was the result of chance.

I should mention that this information has not come from official sources and I have had to rely on unofficial sources within the service. Since the campaign against the cuts began, WSFRS has made it increasingly difficult to obtain accurate information. They are desperate to keep the truth of often abysmal fire cover, and the real effects of the cuts from the public. 

This was clearly demonstrated when, after I published details from their part-time firefighter availability system, they severely restricted access to it. Previously anyone in WSFRS could access it and concerned personnel had provided details of some of the most appalling levels of fire engine availability. On occasions less than half of fire engines were available.

Of course, if WSFRS was more forthcoming and more honest when it came to the provision of information, speculation would be less likely. They only have themselves to blame. Not only do they fail to provide legitimate information, they also use every excuse they can to refuse to provide it. More on that in future posts.