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.

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