The process to get here has been marred by an insincere and flawed consultation, by inaccurate, misleading, hidden and false information, by intimidation, and by a callous disregard for the people of West Sussex.
Firefighters have had to endure uncertainty about their jobs, they have had to change their working arrangements, and in some cases their place of work. No consideration has been given to the disruption this will cause to their home lives. Some have also had to lose a significant portion of their income and some firefighters and other fire service staff have lost their jobs.
Objectors include hundreds of firefighters, several County Councillors, many town and parish councils and most importantly the public. All have been ignored and some have been treated with contempt and abuse.
Despite some publicity, I still encounter significant numbers of West Sussex residents who are unaware of these cuts. Most of them are also appalled that such a vital emergency service is suffering front-line cuts.
It has also been alarming to see what a dreadful state the County Councillors have allowed the service to get in to. Perhaps not surprising when they have abandoned proper accountability and reporting. Regular committee reports on the service’s performance seem to have been replaced with cosy chats between the Cabinet Member and the Chief Fire Officer, and proper published reports, available to the public, have been replaced with spin.
Not just during the consultation, but in annual reports. Just look at this example of spin in the 2013-14 annual report. Fire deaths rose from 6 (WSFRS figures) or 7 (DCLG figures) to 8. How did they disclose this increase? Well they didn't, this is what they showed:
An honest report, as we used to get in annual reports, would have shown it as:
Using modern graphics it would be:
As for the availability of appliances, that is truly disgraceful, with over half of them not crewed on occasions. Instead of taking proper action to remedy the problem, they are simply going to remove five completely. Ironically there have been days with generally poor crewing levels, when one or more of the appliances being removed were actually available.
The public will be at greater risk, because help will take longer to arrive for some of them. Even in areas not losing fire appliances, they may have to wait longer for help, because their local fire appliances are responding to areas that have lost fire appliances. Firefighters will be at greater risk, because when they need assistance it will take longer to arrive.
Both firefighters and the public will be at greater risk, because crews of 4, instead of 5, will become the norm, not the exception. Any experienced firefighter will confirm that arriving at a working fire or serious crash with just 4 firefighters restricts the options for effective and safe actions. No professional firefighter can honestly argue otherwise. The only people who will argue for crews of 4 are those who are not concerned with safety and effectiveness, just those concerned with saving money.
This may seem depressing, but please don’t be discouraged. All is not lost and the campaign to undo the damage to what was once a leading fire & rescue service will continue. The petition has nearly 1,700 confirmed signatures, with several paper copies yet to be returned. Please continue to ask people to sign it, and if you have yet to sign it, please do.
To those who have helped to fight this travesty I am most grateful. I am also grateful to those who have kept me informed on things the County Council would prefer to keep secret. Please continue to do so, as scrutiny needs to be even tighter as the cuts begin to bite.
To all who read this, firefighters or public, please keep safe.