- 90 firefighter jobs and 10 fire engines could be lost
- Thousands sign petition as public begin writing to fire authority
- FBU demands cuts be halted
East Sussex fire authority has been deluged with concerns from firefighters and members of the public, as a campaign against sweeping fire and rescue service cuts in the county gathers pace.
More than 14,000 concerned residents have signed a petition calling on members of the fire authority to reject the proposed cuts, which the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) says will “decimate” the county’s fire service.
FBU analysis can reveal that the county will lose 10 fire engines, at least 30 wholetime firefighters and up to 60 on-call firefighters as a result of the cuts.
Hastings, which has more life-risk fire incidents than anywhere else in East Sussex, will no longer have guaranteed aerial rescue availability, necessary for a high-rise fire like Grenfell. Outside of London, East Sussex has more high-rise buildings than anywhere else in the South of England.
Now, firefighters covering every station in East Sussex have written to Councillor Roy Galley, chair of the fire authority, to spell out the severity of the cuts planned and to call for them to be halted. The local firefighters say that they have “stepped forward” to help their community through the coronavirus pandemic by taking on new duties and that it “simply cannot be the case” that they are thanked with cuts to their jobs and emergency service provision.
More than 1,200 residents have emailed Councillor Galley to say “following this crisis, we cannot go back to more cuts to the fire service. We cannot applaud our firefighters, and then viciously gut their service in the name of saving money.” The FBU is calling on more East Sussex residents to join them.
Firefighters in East Sussex and across the country have taken on huge new areas of work to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, including driving ambulances; delivering Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to NHS and care staff; and delivering medicines and food to vulnerable people.
But East Sussex fire authority has pushed ahead to consult the public on sweeping cuts to the fire service mid-pandemic, detailed in an Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) drawn up by Chief Fire Officer Dawn Whittaker and senior managers before the coronavirus outbreak.
Analysis of the cuts show that:
The Ridge fire station in Hastings would lose immediate response fire cover at night, cutting 12 firefighter jobs and leaving only on-call firefighters to respond at night.
- Bohemia Road fire station in Hastings will no longer have guaranteed aerial rescue capability, as it loses the dedicated crew for its high-reaching aerial ladder fire engine.
- Newhaven fire station, which currently provides vital support for incidents in Brighton and Hove with two fire engines, would be downgraded to a single-fire engine station losing half of its wholetime firefighters.
- Bexhill fire station will lose one fire engine and six firefighters and cease operating outside of 0900-1700 Monday-Friday, adding five minutes to weekend response times
- Rye fire station is losing one of its two fire engines. The station is near an airport, two major holiday camps, a nuclear power station and a major hazard control site. Cuts would see just four firefighters cover 106 square kilometres, not enough to safely staff a single fire engine. The nearest immediate response station will be at Bohemia Road in Hastings, a 25-minute drive away.
- Crowborough fire station will lose half of its wholetime firefighters, reducing weekend and evening fire cover and reducing daytime immediate response hours.
- Wadhurst fire station will lose one fire engine, one firefighting land rover (necessary for rural response) and four on-call firefighters.
- Eastbourne, Hove, Preston Circus, and Roedean fire stations will be forced onto a new crewing system with fewer firefighters, along with Bohemia Road station in Hastings.
Eliot Parry, East Sussex firefighter and FBU brigade secretary, said:
“We warned the fire authority that these cuts were dangerous and now our community is crying out with one voice – these cuts will cost lives and must not go ahead.
“Across East Sussex and the country, we are all trying to pull together to get through this crisis, but the fire authority is exploiting the pandemic as a distraction to push through seriously damaging cuts to our fire service.
“To all East Sussex residents, as your firefighters, we are always here when you need us, including during this pandemic. But now we need your help. We need you to contact the fire authority and tell them that these cuts must not go ahead. Lives genuinely depend on it.”
Matt Wrack, FBU general secretary, said:
“Residents are applauding key workers each Thursday while their fire authority attempts to dismantle their fire and rescue service. It’s both dangerous and utterly tone deaf.
“It’s heartening to see so many residents speak out against these savage cuts. Our members across the country stand with their East Sussex colleagues. Working together, firefighters and residents can stop these unsafe plans.”