Saturday, 9 April 2016

April 2016 Fire Cuts Update

Items covered
One of Eddie Howland's superb images
showing West Sussex firefighters at work
  1. Deceitful West Sussex Support for Hampshire Fire Cuts.
  2. Has Murphy’s Law scuppered Mr Barling’s ‘Super-duper’ 6x6?
  3. Appeal Decisions Show Cabinet Member’s Claim of Openness is False.
  4. Hampshire cuts detail.
  5. County Councillors can’t get details on your Fire & Rescue Service.
  6. Worst ever response times.
  7. Government want Police & Crime Commissioners to take over Fire & Rescue Service.
  8. Real statistics.
  9. Petition thank you & Councillor investigation refused.
  10. Real firefighters care.

Deceitful West Sussex Support for Hampshire Fire Cuts

Last September County Council Leader Louise Goldsmith insisted that West Sussex would not make any comment on the Hampshire cuts. Yet within weeks a West Sussex officer had been seconded to Hampshire for six months to help them promote their cuts. Then the Hampshire consultation report clearly showed that, not only did West Sussex comment, they actually supported the cuts.

Were we deliberately misled in September, or did the Chief Fire Officer ignore the Leader’s policies and instructions? The Leader’s subsequent lame excuse for this - “at the time we weren't going to respond, but we did and we are where we are”.

The West Sussex submission even stated concerns about increased response times and a less effective response in parts of West Sussex, west of Chichester and Midhurst. Councillor Goldsmith refused to give any assurance that Councillors will now take action to fill the gap created by the Hampshire cuts.

"Concerns within West Sussex - increases in response times; and changes in the number of 
firefighters and type of equipment" (Hampshire Fire & Rescue Service Consultation Report)

Most Hampshire fire engines near the border are to be replaced with converted vans, often carrying just two firefighters. Yet, task analysis shows at least four firefighters are needed for safe operations at all incidents.

Has Murphy’s Law Scuppered Mr Barling’s ‘Super-duper’ 6x6?

In 2014, when residents expressed concerns about losing the second fire engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington, they were told that much improved light, off road vehicles ‘would be in place’ before the cuts. Cabinet Member David Barling even talked about ‘super-duper’ vehicles, so where are they? 

Previous and existing light off road vehicles

The not very light 'super-duper' replacement (W H Bence photo)

Well the ‘super-duper’ 6-wheel drive version is reported to first have been overweight on the front axle and then, after re-building, overweight on the rear axle.

Is Murphy’s Law to blame, or is it the result of a poorly conceived idea, with inadequate research, and no business case, combined with poor project management?

All the indications suggest the latter, but WSCC is refusing to release all the information on the project. How much this fiasco has cost West Sussex residents has not been disclosed.
Murphy’s Law (if it can go wrong, it will go wrong)

Appeal Decisions Show Cabinet Member’s Claim of Openness is False

Cabinet Member David Barling has claimed that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service ‘prides itself on its openness’. Yet decisions by the Information Commissioner and the General Regulatory Chamber show that he is wrong.

Two Freedom of Information appeal decisions, regarding WSF&RS, have confirmed that the County Council failed to comply with the legislation. A decision on a third is awaited.

"the Council did not properly apply section 12", "section 16 had not been complied with"

"It did not seem to us that the Council’s estimate had been shown to be reasonable"

"The Council must disclose all information held by it which falls within the Appellant’s refined request"

Even more astonishing was the Council’s response to a FOI request submitted by someone to all fire & rescue services. Dozens of them happily provided the information and London Fire Brigade even make theirs available on the internet. Yet WSF&RS refused to provide it and claimed that it would "threaten national security".

A ridiculous claim. The more likely reason is their paranoia about releasing any data that will confirm WSF&RS’s deteriorating performance.

Hampshire Cuts Detail

All border stations, except Havant, are staffed by part-time firefighters, yet there will be 24 less of them. Proper fire engines (minimum crew 4) being lost are:

Horndean – their fire engine will be replaced with an Intermediate Vehicle. This is a smaller fire engine that carries less water, equipment and firefighters (minimum crew 2).

Emsworth, Grayshott, Liphook - their fire engines will be replaced by First Response Vehicles (minimum crew 2). These carry even less water, equipment and firefighters than the Intermediate Vehicle.

Waterlooville, Petersfield, Havant – One proper fire engine kept, with the second one at each station being replaced with a First Response Vehicle (minimum crew 2).

Claims about new technology are exaggerated. It won’t save your life and is of no use at most incidents – you need at least 4 firefighters!

WSF&RS Task Analysis - used to assess the minimum number of firefighters
needed at incidents, just to enable essential, simultaneous tasks to be carried out safely. 
No incident type required less than four firefighters. 
Building fires required not less than nine firefighters

County Councillors Can’t Get Details on Your Fire & Rescue Service

In February 2015, Councillors James Walsh and Michael Jones submitted questions on the service’s performance. They were told that the information would be provided monthly, but none has been published.

They asked for information about response times not being met, part-time firefighter availability falling below target and when less than 28 fire engines are available. Something County Councillors should monitor and information that should be available to the public.

They were also told that details of fire stations responding to calls would be restored to the incident newsletter on the Council’s website. Although this was initially done, within months they stopped providing any details at all on the WSCC website.

County Councillor Andy Petch asked for performance information affecting the residents he represents. Astonishingly, he was accused of wasting officer time!

Worst Ever Response Times

House fires 13% worse - Outdoor fires 17% worse

(Increased Response Time change for first fire engine 2013-14 to 2014-15)

Government figures released last year show that West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service now has the worst response times in the south-east. Other fire & rescue service response times have deteriorated, but West Sussex, which once had the best response times, is now the worst.

The figures are average times for the arrival of the first fire engine. Yet the response time in many rural areas, and for second fire engines, appear to have increased significantly. Those response times have not been published.

Government Want Police & Crime Commissioners
to Take Over Fire & Rescue Service

This is the latest piece of nonsense from the Government that is likely to lead to further cuts. The idea is not supported by evidence and is just based on very naïve and seriously flawed ideas.

The police and the fire & rescue services necessarily have different functions, training, procedures, vehicles, IT, control rooms and location requirements. They do work together from time to time, and their procedures for doing so are effective, but most of their work does not involve the other service.

Police & Crime Commissioners are fully occupied in monitoring the police. They cannot take on the same role for fire & rescue without reducing their effectiveness at monitoring the police.

The system is also heavily dependent on the effectiveness of the individual. Some PCCs have been ineffective and putting them in charge of fire & rescue would be a disaster for both services.

With PCC elections in May it is worth mentioning that Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates in Sussex are on record as saying that they would not seek control of your fire & rescue service.

What is particularly worrying about these plans is that West Sussex County Council's mismanagement of the fire & rescue service only serves to help the Government’s case. If it is to be stopped, Louise Goldsmith and David Barling need to start running our fire & rescue service properly.

"The PCC webcasts her monthly Performance & Accountability Meetings with the Sussex Police Chief Constable. 
These meetings are an opportunity for the Commissioner to hold the Chief Constable to account
on behalf of the public  in an open and transparent way" (Sussex PCC website)
We can see and hear the Sussex PCC question the Chief Constable, but the meetings between the Chief Fire Officer and the Cabinet Member are held in secret. That is not effective scrutiny, accountability or monitoring of performance?

The National Audit Office also voiced concern last year - "The fire sector is different from other emergency services in not having an external inspectorate". Regarding local scrutiny they said, "There are shortcomings in these local arrangements", and "councillors generally lack independent technical support".
Real Statistics

There has been a lot of misleading spin about fewer calls. If you look at actual figures for the two incident types that most threaten life, and over a longer period, you will see a very different reality. These are ten year averages for the 1980s and for the last ten years in West Sussex.
Fires in the Home

Much smaller reduction than they claim
Road Traffic Collisions

More than doubled
Fire Engine Cuts

24% fewer fire engines available

Petition Thank You & Councillor Investigation Refused

Thank you to all who signed the petition against cuts to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, and to those who worked so hard collecting signatures. Nearly 4,000 people signed, which prompted a County Council debate.

Sadly, Cabinet Member David Barling insulted petitioners by dismissing their concerns as ‘disinformation’. Most of the information supporting the petition was official County Council information, so either that was official disinformation, or he was just resorting to bluff and bluster.

Most despicable was his callous disregard for those who will die as a result of the cuts. Council research predicted an extra death every other year, information that they tried to hide. Now Mr Barling simply told Councillors to “put it out of your heads”.

That's a disgusted me having to listen to Cabinet Member David Barling 
disgracefully telling County Councillors to put extra deaths "out of your heads"

Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP Councillors all voiced serious concerns, but the ruling Conservatives arrogantly ignored a proposal from Independent County Councillor Andy Petch for a Councillor Task Group to investigate. 

Only those with something to hide would oppose a proper investigation!

Conservative cuts and mismanagement have resulted in a rapidly deteriorating service. Poor fire engine availability, increased response times, training deficiencies and inadequate crewing are just some of the problems. Cutting fire crews by a quarter meant that this was sadly inevitable.

Mr Barling owes residents an apology for his disgraceful and disrespectful comments during the debate, and for covering up the service’s deteriorating performance.

Rest assured, we will continue to speak out on behalf of those who genuinely care about their fire & rescue service.

Real Firefighters Care

Despite cuts to West Sussex Fire & Rescue Service, firefighters still work hard to help everyone. They are disillusioned with a lack of support from County Councillors and the Government, but when you are in trouble they will still do their utmost to help you. You can always rely on those firefighters who arrive on fire engines to help you – eventually!

Will rescue arrive in time? It did here - just.

For More Information (click on links)

See other posts on:

Or join the discussion on Facebook:

Freedom of Information Requests at:


  1. Thanks, Tony, for doing the research and bringing us the truth. If this stuff was in the newspapers there would be such a public outcry. Hope everyone who reads it shares it.

    1. Thanks Linda, some of the local newspapers seem happy to print any press release, often unedited, from the Fire & Rescue Service or from the County Council. Unfortunately, they seem less keen to print any reports of failings in the way the Fire & Rescue Service and the County Council are run. They have all been sent this content, so it will be interesting to see if any of them use it.

  2. These carry even less water, equipment and firefighters than the Intermediate