FIREFIGHTERS accept a certain amount of risk as part of their job. When that risk is increased, they become concerned. When the increase in risk is caused by the penny pinching of their managers, concern turns to anger.
Over the next twelve months, Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service (NF&RS) intend to reduce the number of firefighters which they employ. This will be done by removing one fire engine from the Norwich area, at the cost of public safety, and by changing shift patterns.
However, to avoid hiring new staff only to make people redundant, it has been decided that the number of firefighters employed will be allowed to dwindle as people leave the service. This means that there are often not enough firefighters on duty to crew all of the wholetime fire engines across Norfolk.
Because the intention is to remove one fire engine from Norwich, it has been decreed that the second appliance at Norwich Fire Station will usually be sacrificed, with crews moved around the county as required. This results in an additional delay of over two minutes in providing sufficient resources to deal with a fire in a home or business anywhere in the Norwich area.
For more complicated incidents, such as a fire in a tower block, we do not know how long it will take to provide sufficient resources.
The wages for these missing firefighters have already been paid for by taxpayers but the public will not benefit from their services. This is particularly annoying when you consider the ever increasing bureaucracy which taxpayers fund at Norfolk Fire & Rescue Headquarters.
The Government have told us that frontline services will be protected when savings are made but in Norfolk the Fire Service is being run on the cheap and the lives of the public and firefighters are being put at risk as a result.
If members of the public have concerns about this, they should contact their local County Councillor, MP, Chief Fire Officer or leader of the Council, Daniel Cox. If they wish to comment on the permanent removal of a fire engine in Norwich they can visit the Norfolk Fire Service website or come to the public meetings at 13:00 and 18:00 27th July Kings Centre, Kings Street, Norwich.
A consultation is currently underway on the next Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service Safety Plan. Euphemistically known as an improvement plan, this proposes the removal of fire engines from Norwich and Gorleston, the splitting of fire cover across Kings Lynn and the replacement of fully equipped fire engines with rural firefighting vehicles at six on call stations across the county.
‘As a result of similar ‘improvements’ across the country, the ratio of deaths and injuries to fires, the rate of injuries to firefighters and the cost of fire to the economy has increased.
Managers claim that a reduced volume of calls means that the risk from fire is reduced. However, the volume of calls to incidents which pose a risk to life and property has not decreased significantly and the number of accidental dwelling fires has increased across the county in the last year.
The affected areas contain significant concentrations of high risk groups and economically important buildings. There is also a high rate of primary fires, dwelling fires and RTCs in these areas. These factors combine to indicate that the risk to the public remains high and at least the current level of emergency cover is required to keep the public safe.
Managers also claim that the workload for the appliance to be removed from Norwich is low and, as such, it is not economically viable. However, this ignores all of the community engagement activities which fire crews take part in when not responding to emergencies.
The provision of preventative work such as fitting smoke alarms in peoples’ homes, offering fire safety advice and road casualty reduction initiatives will all be hampered.
The reduction in fire cover across Norfolk will result in a delay in the provision of sufficient resources to safely resolve incidents. This means that the lives of the public and of firefighters will be put at greater risk. People’s homes and businesses, as well as the area’s heritage buildings, will become more likely to be significantly damaged in the event of fire.
NF&RS already provides very good value for money. Attempts to further reduce costs by reducing operational resources will cause a reduction in safety. Members of the Fire Brigades Union are campaigning against the changes to emergency provision in Norfolk.
We urge everyone who lives or works in Norfolk to respond to the public consultation and let the Fire Service know that you are not prepared to accept any reduction in public safety. You can do this at the Norfolk Fire Service website or at a series of public meetings across the county (details available from NF&RS).
The consultation ends on 15th August and there will be a lobby of County Hall on 7th September when the results are presented to the council.