Fire chiefs in Somerset have revealed exactly how they are going to save £5.5 million a year when ‘the most savage cuts ever’ are imposed by the Government.
Emergency call handlers will increasingly send out just one firefighter to a fire – in a similar way the ambulance service sends out a first responder – to assess a call out before sending a fully-manned fire engine.
And fire stations across both Devon and Somerset will see firefighters lose their jobs and be re-employed as ‘on-call’ retained firefighters.
Fire chiefs said they are lobbying central Government for more money, and admit closing fire stations ‘is not where we want to be’. And the Fire Brigades Union described the widespread cuts as ‘savage’ and said lives will be put at risk.
The amount the fire authority receives from the Government is being reduced by 10.3 per cent this year – some £3.4 million – and another 7.3 per cent cut, of around £2.1 million, is being enforced next year.
Local councillor Mark Healey, the chairman of the fire authority, said: “The chief fire officer and I have lobbied Government and will continue to do so to ensure we get a better Grant settlement next time. In addition, we have specifically asked for a meeting with the Minister to outline our concerns.
“We will now be keen to listen to staff and the public but whatever the outcome of the consultation, we still will need to save £5.5m. Closing fire stations is not where we want to be,” he added.
Chief Fire Officer Lee Howell added: “These are difficult times and difficult decisions need to be made. The proposals that have been agreed for public consultation today do not require closure of fire stations, removal of fire engines or compulsory redundancies.
“We aim to maintain or improve public safety by changing the way we do business and by crewing some fire engines differently but like many other public and private organisations, we do have to operate with less money,” he added.
The plans, which will go out to a three-month consultation starting in a week’s time, include 11 specific proposals, as well as a general cut to the fire service’s administration offices.
They begin with extending the introduction of ‘light rescue pumps’, which cost less than a normal size fire engine and not answering most automatic fire alarms on buildings – 98 per cent of which are false alarms.
The proposals also include downgrading fire crews at Ilfracombe, Taunton and other stations across Devon to ‘on-call’, cutting the four extra firefighters employed at Yeovil and cut the number of middle-managers.
The FBU has urged bosses to stand up to the Government. “Rather than just accept these enormous cuts forced upon us by central government, the fire authority along with chief fire officer Lee Howell should tell the coalition government that this scale of cuts is unacceptable, risks destroying the fabric of this important service, and ultimately puts more lives at risk,” said Trevor French, FBU secretary.
“As a rural service and one of the biggest in the country, Devon and Somerset have long argued that a ‘sparsity’ factor should be included in any grant settlement received. This would take into account the lack of neighbouring services for support and the sheer scale of area that has to be covered by one fire and rescue service,” he added.
Bob Walker, FBU brigade chair added: “If the cuts proposed go through, there will be fewer firefighters, fewer fire stations and fewer fire engines.
“After the recent floods and fires firefighters have dealt with so professionally, the cuts would be a real kick in the teeth for both the public and the service.”