Battle For Firefighters’ Jobs Builds Up

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Lancashire firefighters are to be balloted over possible strike action in defence jobs.

Chief Fire Officer Peter Holland plans to ‘save £1 million’ by cutting fire crews from five to four on six appliances.

Lancashire Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said members were furious with the county fire authority’s decision to back the cuts.

‘There was immense anger from the firefighters and there was possibly a sense of doom that it was always going to be a done deal,’ said Steve Harman, Lancashire FBU branch secretary last Monday.

Harman added: ‘We were hoping that the Labour group would support the firefighters of Lancashire but on this occasion they chose not to.

‘We can’t compromise on the safety of firefighters.

‘We’re backed in a corner now.

‘We have to fight to maintain five firefighters on as many engines as we can.’

Lancashire FBU said fire chief Holland’s statement that he wanted to put the extra money into improving fire safety training throughout the county was not very credible.

The FBU added that cuts will put lives in danger – contrary to Holland’s claim that the proposals would only affect six of the county’s 63 engines and ‘no way I would sign up to anything that would make firefighters’ jobs more dangerous’.

The FBU said the planned cuts in Lancashire is part of a national pattern of cuts being introduced through Individual Risk Management Plans. (IRMP)

It says: ‘From Watford to Fife, FBU members continue to campaign against proposals to downsize fire cover.

Hertfordshire County Council still plans to press ahead with its proposal to cut 53 firefighter posts.

The FBU said: ‘The oil depot disaster demonstrates many of the failings and concerns the Hertfordshire FBU has over the Draft Community Safety Plan, and its interpretation of risk throughout the county.

‘All of the fire stations under threat of closure or downgrading, Radlett, Bovingdon, Royston, St Albans, Stevenage, Hemel Hempstead and Watford were required to fight the oil depot blaze.

Some senior County Council members have said that whether those resources were available or not, they would have not affected the outcome of this incident.’

Herts FBU IRMP coordinator, Derek Macleod responded: ‘All of the firefighters played a crucial role.

‘They will, at great personal risk, result in a positive outcome of putting out the fire.

‘Nearly all of Hertfordshire’s resources will have been used, in both putting out the oil depot fire, and providing some level of fire cover in the rest of the County.

‘Many of the additional calls received were dealt with using a minimum response, which may have led to crews working outside their normal standard procedures.

‘Without the level of resources we have at present, we would have had to call in an even bigger response from the rest of the country.

‘To suggest we need less firefighters now, must seem like madness!’

A previous incident in November highlighted the dangers of the proposed cuts to Hertfordshire fire and rescue service.

Fire crews attended a flat fire at Crossroads House, The High Street, at 0850 hrs, Friday the 25th November.

The fire in the second floor flat required four fire engines to bring it under control.

Two people were sent to hospital, one with serious injuries.

Other occupants of the building were advised by crews wearing breathing apparatus sets to remain in the relative safety of their homes while the blaze was extinguished.

The crews from Watford’s under-threat fire station led the occupant of the flat to safety and provided first aid until the arrival of the ambulance service.

At a meeting with Watford Borough Council the previous week, deputy chief fire officer, Mark Yates and chair of the Herts fire and rescue service for Herts County Council, David Lloyd, referred to an ‘over provision of fire cover for the Watford area’.

They talked of cutting the second fire engine through the night, which would mean it being unavailable from 9pm to 9am.

The Union warned at the same meeting that despite such claims, historical evidence has shown a shortage of firefighters and fire appliances for Hertfordshire.

It warned the meeting that the proposed loss of 53 front line posts would not improve community safety.

To highlight FBU concerns, Bushey Fire Station were not able to provide a crew for this fire.

In October 100 firefighters residents groups, local councillors and Watford Mayor Dorothy Thornhill protested against the cuts to night-time cover with a march through town and in early November hundreds of residents turned up to a meeting with fire chiefs to register their opposition to the plans.

In Fife, Scotland, the union and FBU members have attacked proposals to close the fire stations in Dunfermline and Rosyth.

They fear that moves to replace the two stations with a new one, possibly at Pitreavie, would involve slashing the number of appliances in the area from five to two.

And that, they say, could endanger lives and lead to 60 job losses.

Alex Kinnear, FBU Fife brigade chair, said: ‘It appears the two stations will be amalgamated into one with a reduction in appliances and, if the changes go through, you could be looking at the loss of 60 firefighters’ jobs.

‘Our concern is that you’ll then see increased attendance times to get to places like the West Fife villages.

‘It will affect our ability to respond and obviously with fires, time does matter. The longer it takes to get there, the more at risk people are.’

At present, there are three pumping appliances, an aerial ladder engine and an emergency support unit between the two sites and there are suggestions that just two pumping appliances will be kept.

The proposals are part of the fire service’s Integrated risk management plan but the union fears the changes are more to do with saving cash than improvements.

Kinnear said: ‘This integrated risk management plan should be about reducing the risk to the public, not about cutting jobs to save money.

‘I’m afraid that’s what is at the back of this.’