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.

No comments:

Post a Comment