The Home Secretary has announced the creation of the first ever Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner in a move that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has branded reckless.
The current police and crime commissioner for Essex, Roger Hirst, will take up the expanded brief to include control of Essex Fire and Rescue Service from October.
The union fears the move will put the independence and neutrality of the fire service at risk as well as resulting in more frontline cuts.
Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of the FBU in Essex, said: “The fire and rescue service holds a special position within our community, having established good relations and high levels of trust with the public. This is because firefighters offer a purely humanitarian, neutral and life-saving service. We are not law enforcers. The introduction of Police, Fire and Crime Commissioners threatens this model, which has worked well for decades.
“If the public perception of the fire service begins to change and we are seen to have close links with the police force, it will make the work of firefighters a lot more difficult. This has already been seen in Essex where our links to the local community have been damaged by our attendance at the evictions of the Crays Hill travellers’ site.
“The neutrality of the fire service means we can gain access to areas of society where the attendance of police officers has not always been so welcome. It is vital that the fire service and police force maintain distinct and separate identities.”
The FBU has been working with the new commissioner and are seeking assurances that there will be no further cuts to the frontline service.
Since 2010, over 270 frontline firefighter posts have been axed at Essex Fire and Rescue Service, approximately 20% of the workforce.