For those who did not see the County Council meeting today, there were some probing questions about WSFRS from County Councillors James Walsh and Andy Petch. Unsurprisingly the answers from Cabinet Member David Barling were inadequate and evasive.
James Walsh pointed out that the Cabinet Member’s report claimed fire deaths had halved since the 1980s, when they are only down by a quarter (average down from 8 to 6 per year). Strangely, David Barling then rambled on saying that fire deaths were not increasing, but were falling. Of course James Walsh had not said they were increasing, he had just highlighted the Cabinet Member’s poor arithmetic.
The report also claimed that Fire and Rescue’s prevention campaigns were responsible for the reduction, even though the main factors are social, technological and legal changes. Such things as reduced use of open fires, paraffin heaters, chip pans, smoking materials, better means of escape, better furniture and clothing regulations etc. have all had more effect on the number of fire deaths than prevention campaigns have.
It seems that WSCC try to claim all the credit when there are any improvements, but deny any responsibility when things get worse. As they did when, against the national trend, fire deaths in West Sussex increased every year from 2008/09 to 2013/14.
Both James Walsh and Andy Petch highlighted the appliance availability problem. Instead of the ‘30 pumps available on a regular basis’ promise, made during the cuts debate, numbers have been much lower, including as low as 16. Andy Petch also referred to the particular problems in Mid Sussex with, on occasions, only one of the eight fire engines having a crew.
David Barling claimed the average is 28 available, and is the same as it was before the cuts. So he has at least admitted that taking wholetime firefighters from wholetime stations to boost crewing at retained stations has had little or no effect. It has of course cut the crews on most wholetime crewed appliances from five to four, making the job more difficult and less safe for them.
James Walsh also reminded the Cabinet Member that he had said in February that fire engine availability data would be published monthly. He asked why it had not been provided, but got no answer.
The Cabinet Member’s report said that WSFRS has helped to protect thousands of vulnerable residents with Community Fire Link smoke detectors. Andy Petch pointed out that, even with those alarms, vulnerable residents are still more likely to need rescuing from fires. He asked for an assurance that at least nine firefighters on two pumps would be sent to such calls. He did not get it.
It seems that David Barling would rather gamble by sending just one pump, hoping that the call is a false alarm. He rambled on about modern radios and said that the officer-in-charge can ask for help if he needs it when he gets there. Completely ignoring of course that this will increase the danger to vulnerable people and to firefighters.
It is good to see some Councillors continuing to highlight the problems, even if David Barling continues to opt for the see no problem, hear no problem and speak no problem approach.