Proposals from Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service (NFRS) to save £1m a year would put public safety at risk, says the Fire Brigades Union (FBU).
A proposal to introduce ‘mixed crewing’ (a mixture of full time or ‘wholetime’ firefighters with on call or ‘retained’ personnel) at two out of three fire stations, Ashfield, Retford or Worksop – would mean the selected stations would have no full time firefighter cover at night. Worryingly, Retford and Worksop stations, in the Bassetlaw district, last year saw a staggering increase of 57% in property fires.
John Muggleton, FBU brigade secretary for Nottinghamshire, said: “Most of these property fires happen at night, so these new proposals from NFRS are extremely concerning. Retained firefighter crew members can ‘book unavailable’ at any time, so there is no guarantee that they would even be able to turn out in sufficient numbers to cope with fires or other incidents.”
Equally concerning is the fact that retained firefighters in Nottinghamshire do not have the capability to ‘work at height’ if they were required to rescue someone from a significant height. Nor do they have the capability to wear chemical suits due to lack of training.
John Muggleton added: “The busy M1 motorway, which is in the catchment area of Ashfield fire station, is used routinely by lorries carrying chemicals, driving during day and night time. An incident involving one of these vehicles would need a wholetime fire crew, and the nearest trained crew would be up to 20 minutes further away. These proposals really are dangerous, and they need to be reconsidered urgently. They have gone out to public consultation, but we are worried that the public are being kept in the dark about what they mean both to human safety but also in terms of protecting buildings and property. Retford and Worksop stations have similar issues as they service both the A1 and the A46, two major trunk roads that go through Nottinghamshire that are also used by chemical-carrying unsafe lorries.”
NFRS, however, say that there would be a minimal impact if their proposals go ahead, insisting that on call firefighters can mobilise within under four minutes. The FBU find this hard to believe, with retained members telling officials that it can take as long as 20 minutes to mobilise.
Recruitment and retention of on call, or retained firefighters, is becoming increasingly challenging not just in Nottinghamshire but nationally. Over the past year, NFRS have recruited 30 retained firefighters, but 40 have left the service.
John Muggleton concluded: “The sole use of retained firefighters to provide fire cover is not sustainable or safe. We urge NFRS to rethink even considering these dangerous cost-cutting exercises, and more fundamentally, for central Government to now start investing properly in the fire and rescue service nationally instead of cutting it to the bone so that local fire and rescue services like ours aren’t faced with making these dreadful, unsafe decisions.”