Surrey firefighters had to call on three neighbouring brigades last night (Tuesday 11th July) when services were stretched to breaking point as two fires broke out.
A fire at Weybridge Community Hospital at midnight prompted 65 calls to Surrey’s stretched Emergency Control Centre (ECC) which was crewed by just four members of staff. Many calls had to be diverted to Merseyside’s ECC because of the volume of calls.
Lee Belsten, secretary of the FBU in Surrey, said: “This one night has proven beyond any doubt that the budget cuts being imposed in September, to cut the number of ECC staff on duty at night to just three, are senseless, as they will mean call handling and mobilising delays”.
Over 60 firefighters and fire officers were sent to the Weybridge Community Hospital. Specialist high-rise aerial appliances were sent from Leatherhead and Guildford to tackle the complex fire which involved bringing explosive cylinders under control.
Just after 05:00 hours the next morning, over 60 firefighters and fire officers were sent to a fire at an industrial building in Ockham involving heavy farm machinery and, again, explosive cylinders. Many of the crews were sent straight from the Weybridge fire to Ockham with additional fire crews called in to cover Surrey travelling from London, Hampshire and West Sussex. Other crews came from Fleet, Rushmoor, Bordon, Horsham, Surbiton and Sutton fire stations.
Lee Belsten said “This worrying situation occurred less than 24 hours after Surrey County Council (SCC) rejected a motion calling for an urgent review of Surrey Fire and Rescue’s fire protection, prevention and emergency cover arrangements which London Mayor Sadiq Kahn agreed in London, following the Grenfell fire.”
Since 2010, SCC has imposed budget cuts resulting in 33% of Surrey’s full time firefighters being axed. With further budget cuts predicted to cut the number further by 42% and the ECC staff by 33% (since 2010) it’s clear that Surrey will not cope with nights like this without calling on other brigades. Fire engines could be replaced by vans crewed by just two firefighters under the latest cuts, with five fire engines likely to be removed from service alongside reductions of night fire crews.
Lee Belsten concluded: “Using the fact that there are less fires at night to justify fire service cuts is a high risk strategy, as last night showed. The number of fires may be less but statistics show that more people die in fires at night. Thankfully, no members of the public or firefighters were injured in last night’s explosions. But will luck be on our side tonight?”