Sunday, 21 August 2016

Is "Safer in our hands" just rhetoric?

Over the past week, we have seen a number of fires that have stretched the inadequately resourced fire & rescue service in West Sussex. 

Four fire engines were required in Lancing, and they had to come from Shoreham, Worthing, Storrington and East Sussex.

Six fire engines were needed at a fire in Billingshurst, and they came from Horsham, Worthing, Storrington, Partridge Green, Crawley and Arundel.

Overlapping that call was a fire in Crawley Down, which also needed six fire engines. They came from East Grinstead and Burgess Hill, plus four from Surrey Fire & Rescue Service. 

A vehicle fire in Pulborough was apparently dealt with by a crew from East Wittering, who were at Storrington to cover a shortage of local crews. Firefighters being taken from the communities they joined to protect, to protect others many miles away is sadly now a daily occurrence. 

Today we have a major fire at Selsey requiring at least ten fire engines. We don't yet know where they have come from, but the local grapevine in Selsey is rife with complaints about how long it took for the fire service to arrive. This suggests that the Selsey fire engine did not have a crew, or was otherwise unavailable. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Chichester were the first crew to arrive, that Arundel were the third and that there are four crews there from Hampshire. 

As I say, the Selsey information is as yet unconfirmed, but given West Sussex County Council's neglect of the service I would not be surprised if the information turns out to be correct. Will we ever get full details? Possibly, but there has been an increasing reluctance to give details that may inform the public of the inadequate protection they are getting. 

So what do we get from West Sussex County Council. We get press releases about "Hundreds pledge support to council’s campaign to keep fire service". Sadly ironic when you consider that West Sussex County Council rejected a petition, signed by 'thousands' last year, asking them not to cut the fire & rescue service. 

There is no evidence yet that the service will be safer under the Police & Crime Commissioner's control, but West Sussex County Council's record is far from good. They have closed fire stations, cut a quarter of the County's fire engines, failed to improve crewing of those that remain, and are failing to meet response times for one in four serious incidents. 

Government figures, released this week, also show that the number of people who died in house fires in West Sussex increased last year, as did the total number of incidents attended. 

It does not matter how many people support West Sussex County Council's campaign, as the final decision will be taken by the Home Secretary. Unless Louise Goldsmith drops her meaningless rhetoric about "we know it delivers the very best for our communities", and replaces it with evidence that they can meet the government's objectives, I fear the Police & Crime Commissioner will get her way.

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