THE Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has branded proposed further cuts to Surrey fire and rescue service as ‘incomprehensible’, just months after a government inspection voiced ‘serious concerns’ about the county’s fire and rescue service.
Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has experienced brutal cuts, with 131 firefighter positions slashed between 2010 and 2018 – a 17% reduction in the workforce. The proposed cuts would see a further 70 firefighter posts axed in the area, cutting numbers by 22% since 2010.
This follows a December 2018 report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) voicing ‘serious concerns’ about the service’s effectiveness and efficiency in keeping people safe and secure from fire and other risks.
Proposals from Surrey County Council would see drastic reductions to fire cover at night, with Egham, Painshill and Banstead fire stations closed at 18:00. Fire cover at Guildford, Woking, Camberley, and Fordbridge would be cut in half.
The drastic reductions to firefighter availability at night are under the guise of what the council calls ‘risk-based cover’, as more fires occur during the day than in the evening. But the FBU warns that, despite this, there is a far greater chance of fire deaths at night, as victims are often asleep.
Home Office figures show that, from 2017-18, 73% of all deaths from residential fires and 77% of all deaths from accidental residential fires occurred between the hours of 18:00 and 09:00.
Response times in the area have already suffered, with it now taking nine minutes and 13 seconds for a crew of four firefighters to arrive at a fire, the longest response time for Surrey on record. In 1994/5, it took just six minutes and 52 seconds to send a larger crew of five, showing the cumulative effect of decades of cuts to the service.
Lee Belsten, FBU Surrey brigade secretary, said: ‘The council’s claim that these cuts are “risk based” is ludicrous. Slashing night-time cover leaves the public exposed when they are most at risk of fatality. These proposals offer no improvement in public safety and do nothing to address how firefighters are supposed to keep themselves safe.
‘Surrey received a damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate last year and consistently fails to achieve its agreed response time. It is incomprehensible that the council plans to respond to this situation with further brutal cuts.
‘The residents of Surrey deserve better. The council have relentlessly cut life-saving public services, while increasing council tax year on year. The public are being short-changed; receiving a less effective, less efficient service, that costs more while leaving them at greater risk.’