Chief fire officer ousted to make way for hatchet job on service, union warns

Surrey’s Chief Fire Officer Russell Pearson has been removed from post just months after he was awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal, it has been revealed today (20 July).

The Fire Brigades Union says it fears Surrey County Council (SCC) ousted him as punishment for his repeated warnings that planned budget cuts would leave Surrey Fire and Rescue Service unable to protect the public.

Richard Jones, executive council member for the FBU in the South East, said: “I am in no doubt that the only reason SCC would replace Russell Pearson is so they can get someone in to do a hatchet job, solely to make cuts without any regard to public or firefighter safety.

“With emergency response times in Surrey at their slowest since 1996, the number of fires we attend and rescues we make increasing year on year since 2015, further cuts are absolutely absurd and show SCC are prioritising monetary savings ahead of public safety.”

Since 2010, the council have cut £20m from the service budget and they now plan to implement a further £5.5m worth of cuts between 2019 and 2021. As a result the number of firefighters in the county has plummeted by 40% resulting in chronic staff shortages. It means a number of fire appliances are unavailable to respond to emergencies because there are not enough firefighters to crew them.

Emergency crews have been cut in size to four despite SCC’s 2011 Public Safety Plan stating that it would crew all fire engines with five firefighters. Emergency control room staff have also been cut leading to call queuing and delays in getting critical information to emergency crews.

Mr Jones continued: “Further budget cuts will lead to firefighters being made redundant resulting in a 50% reduction in the already inadequate number of firefighters. This would create a woefully inadequate service that will result in saveable lives being lost”.

In June 2017, Surrey firefighters submitted a Motion of No Confidence in SCC’s fire authority. To date, the council has not met with FBU officials in Surrey with a view to resolving the serious public and firefighter safety concerns raised within it.

The FBU is urging residents to write and email their county councillors to voice their opposition to these dangerous arbitrary cuts the council wants to impose on them. Details can be found here: https://mycouncil.surreycc.gov.uk/mgFindMember.aspx

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