Presentation from the Fire Brigade Union on the Safer Together Consultation
- Meeting of South Somerset District Council, Thursday 19th September 2019 7.30 pm (Item 49.)
- View the declarations of interest for item 49.
(Councillor Martin Carnell, having earlier declared a personal and pecuniary interest, left the room during consideration of this item).
The Chairman introduced Mr Bradley Atkinson of the Fire Brigade Union to speak on the Devon and Somerset Fire Service ‘Safer Together’ consultation.
Mr Atkinson advised that the proposals in the consultation would have consequences for the towns of Yeovil, Martock and Chard. The proposals would mean the closure of 8 Fire Stations and the downgrading of a further 5 or 6 Stations and a further loss of 33 fire engines which was a 33% reduction in fire cover. Martock would lose 1 fire engine (leaving only 1 engine) and Chard would lose 50% of its day cover – leaving 1 engine during the day and 2 at night.
He outlined recent incidents which had happened in the Yeovil area and the consequences which the proposed reductions in service would have had on the incident. He said:-
· the service required resilience and back-up during incidences to deal with any second calls.
· this was not about saving jobs but his concern was the safety of the public.
· more houses had smoke alarms and so there were less incidences of house fires, however, fires in flats were often an issue where the only exit was blocked by fire.
· There was an issue with dementia patients not understanding the danger raised by a smoke alarm and so they did not understand to leave safely.
· Certain historic houses in the area had a minimum attendance of 5 fire engines due to their significant historic value and the proposals would mean fire engines would have to travel greater distances to attend.
· when fire engines were moved around the district to provide cover in an area where the local engines were on a call, this was not counted in statistics as an incident.
· the prescriptive duties placed on retained firefighters impacted on staffing and many gave 60 to 80 hours per week to keep their local fire station open.
· The turnover of fire officers was 130 per year and it took two years to fully train a fire fighter at a cost of £15,000 per officer.
· The consultation proposed that once implemented, fire engines would be available 100% of the time.
· The Fire Chief said they used predictive analytics to ensure fire engines were in the right place at the right time.
· The consultation proposed 6 roving fire engines but this was a concept and the proposal said they would be crewed by 2 to 3 fire officers when 4 or 5 were needed.
· The Fire Brigade Union considered that the consultation was flawed as local people were being asked to make responses to proposals without understanding the consequences on other towns in Devon and Somerset.
· The consultation only mentioned front line cuts but since 2007 over 460 fire fighters had been lost when back office staff had increased by 25%.
· It would cost £40,000 to keep the fire engine in Yeovil, £25,000 to keep the one in Chard and £30,000 to keep the one in Martock.
· Yeovil’s population was growing and in 2014 there were 635 calls on the fire service in the town; it was predicted to rise to 900 in 2019.
He concluded that there were serious questions raised regarding the statistics used in the consultation which caused the Fire Brigade Union concern.
In response to questions from Members, Mr Atkinson advised:-
· Devon and Somerset Fire Authority found it difficult to attract Government funding as they had £38m in contingency funding.
· Rather than receiving support from the fire teams at Yeovilton Air Station, the Yeovil fire engines attended any fires not on the airfield at Yeovilton.
· Population figures indicating increases in population, particularly in Yeovil, were not included in the consultation document.
· Increasingly, the fire service were being called out to incidences previously covered by the police service.
· He was not able to confirm if consultation with the Dorset Fire Service had taken place.
· The fire engine from Yeovil was called to any incidence at the two prisons in Dorset as it had a hydraulic platform.
· The justifications for the proposals in the consultation changed from the need to find savings, to modernise the fire service and the result of not sufficient central government funding.
At the conclusion of the debate, the Chairman thanked Mr Atkinson for attending to update Council on the proposed changes to the Fire Service in South Somerset.