“Don’t think of this as your own personal job - you’re only looking after it for the next person.” This is one of the first things many of us were told when we joined the fire service.
It is a view held so strongly throughout the service that it is expressed across our profession, by people of all ranks and in all areas. It represents a culture of pride in the achievements of our predecessors who built the fire service into the valued institution it is today. But it also represents a commitment that we value what was entrusted to us and that we will fight to pass it on in the best condition for the next generation.
This spirit was in plain sight on the streets of Bristol recently as firefighters went out into their communities asking the public to support their campaign against dangerous frontline cuts to the service.
“Don’t think of this as your own personal job - you’re only looking after it for the next person.”
As a result of government funding cuts, Avon Fire and Rescue Service recently announced plans to cut 49 frontline firefighter posts. This would mean the downgrading of a wholetime fire station in Yate and the permanent removal of primary crewing of aerial appliances and a heavy rescue tender.
These cuts would clearly impact on public safety and would damage a service that has seen its response times to emergencies slow. In 2009-10, the average response time was eight minute and 40 seconds. By 2015, that figure had increased to nine minutes and 30 seconds. This came on top of staffing cuts that has seen the number of uniformed staff plummet from 684 in 2010 to 531 in 2016. We have reached crisis point.
The latest round of cuts was condemned by firefighters and a campaign of opposition was quickly established by the FBU in Avon. The communications team at the union’s head office were a huge help, assisting in the design and production of leaflets, banners, web pages and social media. An online petition was launched, attracting thousands of signatures, and “campaign days” saw firefighters taking to the streets over the Christmas period to make their case to the public.
The response was nothing short of incredible. In Yate, where firefighters set up a stall in the local shopping centre, members of the public were queuing to sign the petition and offer their support. FBU members collected over 600 signatures in just two hours. All of us present were buoyed by this fantastic support. This was repeated in Bristol city centre the following week where 250 signatures were collected in just the first 30 minutes.
The response to our campaign puts a lie to any suggestion that the public support cuts to the fire service. In fact, quite the opposite. People were telling us that the cuts have gone too far and a change, of course, is needed.
The thousands of signatures that we collected will be submitted to the fire authority, along with our full response, when we make the professional case against cuts at the close of consultation.
All the members who gave up their time and took to the streets to fight for their service have shown incredible pride in their profession. This is in stark contrast to others, particularly some chief fire officers, who accept the severe cuts without any protest.
The firefighters and control staff who are campaigning to save our service are the real custodians of our profession. It is proof that the FBU is the genuine voice of the fire and rescue service.
Each time we campaign, we put a clear marker down; we refuse to accept cuts and we will not be brow beaten into submission.