‘VICTORY’ the FBU (Fire Brigades Union) has proclaimed, after the North Wales fire authority announced on Monday that plans to downgrade two fire stations in North Wales have been scrapped following opposition from firefighters and the public.
Rhyl and Deeside fire stations both faced being closed at night under cuts to North Wales Fire and Rescue Service.
The Fire Brigades Union had warned that this would impact firefighters’ ability to keep people and homes safe in two of the region’s busiest areas, as well as decreasing capacity across North Wales at night.
The Fire Authority has now voted to reject all proposals from fire service managers to downgrade coverage.
Duncan Stewart-Ball, Fire Brigades Union regional secretary for Wales said: ‘Today marks a victory for firefighters and the communities they serve, as the plans to downgrade Rhyl and Deeside fire stations have been scrapped.
‘This is the result of months of organising, lobbying and protesting, with hundreds of firefighters and residents of North Wales coming together to save their fire service.
‘The incredible solidarity we have seen during this campaign has shown just how valued the work of our firefighters is by the people they protect.’
Matt Wrack, Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: ‘This outcome is the result of months of hard work and campaigning by firefighters and the wider community across north Wales.
‘The FBU will make sure that the voice of firefighters continues to be heard, and will fight for our services to receive the funding they desperately need.’
However, the FBU is fighting fire authority plans to cut the number of fire engines and on-call firefighters across Hereford and Worcester, after the fire authority announced last week that it is planning to remove eight fire engines across the region, downgrade fire cover in Wyre Forest, and axe 45 on call firefighters.
Firefighters have warned that reducing fire engines by 20%, from 41 to 33, will put the public and firefighters at serious risk and is fighting to ensure that the ‘public consultation’ on the proposals which is scheduled to open in January will clearly understand that the plans must be scrapped.
Matt Wrack said: ‘Residents of Hereford and Worcester deserve a fire service equipped to keep them safe.
‘We now have fewer fire engines, stations and firefighters than ten years ago, after a decade of brutal austerity. Further cuts will threaten to push the service past breaking point.
‘The Fire Brigades Union stands against any cuts that risk public and firefighter safety. Hereford and Worcester fire authority must listen to the frontline and withdraw these dangerous proposals.’
Neil Bevan, FBU Hereford and Worcester brigade secretary said: ‘These proposed cuts present a serious threat to public and firefighter safety.
‘Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service is already stretched dangerously thin. Response times have hit a ten year high due to lack of resources. Meanwhile, we continue to respond to high numbers of flooding incidents year on year.
‘The fire authority should be investing in the service, but instead they are proposing cutting it to the bone. Firefighters will not sit back and allow homes and lives to be put on the line. We will fight to save our service.’
There is a fight on to defend the fire service across the country.
Avon firefighters rallied outside a fire authority meeting in Bristol last week, protesting against proposed cuts to 40 firefighter posts and a ‘dangerous’ reduction to fire engine crews.
In October, Avon Fire Authority voted through proposals to cut 40 wholetime (full time) firefighter posts and reduce fire engine crews from five firefighters to four across the service.
The latest report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) found Avon fire service ‘inadequate’ at responding to fires and other emergencies.
Firefighters have requested permission to address one of the meeting’s sessions with a joint letter from the Avon FBU Brigade committee calling for a stop to the cuts.
The Fire Brigades Union has condemned the cuts as ‘dangerous and irresponsible’.
Dave Roberts, FBU South West regional secretary said: ‘Avon’s fire and rescue service is in a state of emergency. The service has been declared inadequate at responding to fires.
‘This is the appalling impact of austerity. Meanwhile, the fire authority has announced cuts to 40 full time firefighters.
‘Our firefighters are working under immense pressure without the resources they need. These brutal cuts will only make the crisis worse.
‘Public and firefighter safety is on the line. Avon fire authority must reverse their disastrous decision to cut the service to the bone.’
Fire control staff in Merseyside are to take eight consecutive days of strike action from next Wednesday, 27 December.
Control staff delivered an overwhelming mandate for strike action in August, with 100% voting Yes on a turnout of 92%.The dispute centres on the imposed reduction in night-time staffing numbers from the agreed level of six to five; and the introduction of a duty shift system that was never subject to negotiation with the Fire Brigades Union.
Following the ballot result, negotiations were ongoing between the union and Merseyside fire employers at the National Joint Council (NJC).
But FBU members in Merseyside fire control voted overwhelmingly to reject an offer from employers last week.
The offer failed to address some of the issues relating to the proposed duty shift system, and employers refused to even discuss the imposed reduction in night-time staffing numbers.
The FBU has now notified the employer of eight solid days of strike action, which will seriously disrupt the fire and rescue service, both in Merseyside and across the UK, with the control room fulfilling the national resilience responsibility.
Matt Wrack said: ‘Imposing contracts on firefighters and downgrading working conditions is a threat to public safety.
‘Control room staff have emphatically backed industrial action to defend their conditions and their fire service – and the intransigence of employers gives us no choice but to use that mandate.
‘The cost of resolving this dispute would be minimal.
‘The cost of not resolving it is major disruption to the fire service. I urge Merseyside fire employers to use the time between now and the strike to come forward with a credible offer.
‘The whole of the Fire Brigades Union across the UK stands behind Merseyside control members’
Ian Hibbert, Fire Brigades Union Brigade Secretary for Merseyside said: ‘Our members in fire control are the undisputed occupational experts, who are dealing with an employer that not only ignores that expertise, but seeks to rip up local agreements that protect control staff, firefighters and members of the public alike.
‘Firefighters and control staff do not take industrial action lightly, but having exhausted every option with an employer who refuses to listen, we have been left with no other choice.
‘The time has come for Merseyside Fire and Rescue service to listen to members in fire control, to listen to the Fire Brigades Union and to reach agreement on all issues.’
Last week the Tory government set out its plans to decimate the fire and rescue service in a white paper.
Matt Wrack responded: ‘The fire and rescue service is in crisis. We have lost one in five frontline firefighter jobs since 2010, and response times are slower than ever before.
‘But these proposals will not put a penny back into the fire service or deliver national standards on response times and crewing.
‘Plans to scrap collective bargaining and forcibly merge police and fire governance structures have been watered down. But many of the proposals are still dangerous and ill-conceived, and come alongside an authoritarian attempt to ban strike action in our sector.
‘Ministers are aiming to empower Chief Fire Officers to dictate how the fire service is run at the expense of democratic accountability, local communities and firefighters themselves. The proposals attack the National Joint Council and (NJC) and pay agreements but offer no evidence for this, making a mockery of the policy process.
‘The government should be listening to firefighters.
‘Instead, it seems content to leave the same people who have presided over an era of decline and mismanagement – the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC) – in charge.
‘The Firefighters’ Manifesto sets out a plan for a modern, resilient fire and rescue service with the resources it needs. We will bitterly oppose further cuts to our service and any attempt to sideline the voice of firefighters.’