Essex fire service putting public safety at risk as strikers protesting against biggest jobs cut ever are punished

Bullish fire chiefs in Essex are sending the normal professional fire and rescue force home without pay from 6pm today (Friday 12th June) until 9am on Monday morning (l5th June) to punish firefighters who are going on strike for a single night shift on Saturday (13th June).

The firefighters are striking against plans to cut 179 firefighter and 999 control jobs across Essex, Southend and Thurrock which would constitute one quarter of the firefighter workforce, making it the biggest cut ever made not just in Essex County fire and rescue service history, but across the whole of the UK.

The bizarre move by Essex fire chiefs means that instead of the local community being without their professional 999 fire cover for 15 hours of strike, the chiefs will be withdrawing the usual professional 999 cover in Essex for more than 63 consecutive hours.  Matt Wrack, FBU General Secretary, has written to the Essex Fire Service asking them to reverse this decision.

Alan Chinn-Shaw, Secretary of the FBU in Essex, said “The decision to lock out the normal professional fire crews flies in the face of the fire authority’s legal duty to provide a safe and efficient fire and rescue service to the public.  This strike is perfectly legal, but there is no legal requirement for the fire chiefs to lock fire crews out for the entire weekend.”

Essex firefighters have offered to be recalled to duty during strike periods if a major incident occurred, but the authority have declined their offer.

If the cuts go through unchallenged it will mean the public waiting longer for the first fire crew to arrive, typically with too few firefighters on board to immediately commence rescue operations, and then waiting longer for the next fire crews to come from further away.  In an emergency, every second counts.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service have already been missing key response time targets as a result of cuts made, while senior management are calling for these targets to be ‘relaxed’.

The same frontline firefighters play a vital dual role. They carry out invaluable prevention work in their communities and yet are still needed to respond to the thousands of 999 emergencies that still occur each year in Essex, Southend and Thurrock.

The efficiency of the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service is being further compromised by their having to use an out of date mobilising system, the means by which fire crews are sent out to respond to incidents.  A new modern system was installed at great cost earlier this year but it crashed and has yet to be fixed.

Alan Chinn-Shaw continued “Striking is a last resort, and we are committed to continuing negotiations but service managers are showing no sign whatever of compromise.  They remain intent on imposing unworkable conditions that put firefighters and public safety at risk.”

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