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Surrey firefighters "could pay with their life" if cuts go ahead

Fire - single use

Published by Tom Cantoni at 5:00am 22nd April 2019. (Updated at 2:38pm 22nd April 2019)

A Surrey firefighter has voiced concerns that planned cuts to the service could result in him, or one of his colleagues, paying with their life.

Night time cover in the county is under threat as Surrey County Council consults on proposals that would see seven overnight fire engines taken away.

It is part of the authority's 'Making Surrey Safer' plan, following an inspection last year which highlighted that Surrey Fire and Rescue Service was not doing enough to protect people or prevent emergencies from happening.

Surrey County Council wants to combat this by putting more money into fire prevention education in the community.

But the changes would mean taking away night cover in Banstead, Egham and Painshill, meanwhile reducing cover in Camberley, Fordbridge, Guildford and Woking.

Fire proposals

 

Local firefighter James, which isn't his real name as he wishes to remain anonymous, has spoken out about the danger he believes these plans would cause.

Speaking exclusively to Eagle Radio, he said: "The safety levels (in the fire service) have never been as bad and it will only get worse.

"Every firefighter is really dedicated to protecting and serving the community, but at what cost? I fear that these cuts will end up in a firefighter paying with his or her life.

"We want to go into that job knowing that we are going to be safe and go home to our families. We need that safety in numbers."

Fire proposals

 

Surrey County Council's fire prevention education would include more 'Safe and Well' visits for vulnerable people, as well as fire safety messages for people from school age to adulthood.

James agrees with the principle of the education, but does not think it is worth the cost of cutting night time fire cover.

"No matter how much community work you do or however many smoke alarms you put up for people, these fires will still happen.

"Elderly people with mobility issues are still going to be vulnerable to a fire. It's been shown that in a lot of cases of fire deaths, they've had working smoke alarms and advice from the fire service.

"A vast majority that have been saved have been saved because there has been a fire engine there, fully crewed and in good time."

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Surrey County Council's proposals have been slammed by the Fire Brigades Union, which has described them as "incomprehensible".

Surrey Brigade Secretary, Lee Belsten said: "The council’s claim that these cuts are ‘risk based’ is ludicrous. Slashing night-time cover leaves the public exposed when they are most at risk of fatality.

"These proposals offer no improvement in public safety and do nothing to address how firefighters are supposed to keep themselves safe.

"Surrey received a damning report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate last year and consistently fails to achieve its agreed response time.

"It is incomprehensible that the council plans to respond to this situation with further brutal cuts.

"The public are being short-changed; receiving a less effective, less efficient service, that costs more while leaving them at greater risk."

FBU fire cuts

The council is also looking into charging people for call-outs to incidents that are not emergencies. This would include false reports of fires (hoax calls & automatic fire alarms that aren’t real) and animal rescues.

A petition calling on Surrey County Council to scrap its plans has since been set up and signed by nearly 7,000 people.

"I have 25 years in the service and I would seriously have to think about leaving if the cuts go ahead" James added.

"There'll be a lot more people that would seriously think about leaving because of the risk to themselves and the public.

"They will take the fire engines away at night and then what are they going to do next year and the year after? We're an easy target and year in year out they come back to us."

James isn't just unhappy with the plans either, he told Eagle he doesn't think the questioning of the consultation is reflective of potential changes.

"The consultation is misleading. It is misleading the public of the real objective to cut seven front line fire engines.

"There is not actual information to the public that is easy for them to find that they would lose those fire engines.

"Anyone who looks at the consultation will answer yes to all the questions, giving them a false view of what is going to happen."

Fire

According to acting Chief Fire Officer for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service, Steve Owen-Hughes, the plan is all about bringing firefighters closer to communities, in turn helping to prevent emergencies and keep people safe.

When the consultation was announced he said: "By keeping the same number of fire stations and fire engines as we have now but crewing some of them differently at night, when there is less call on us, we’ll be able to do more life-saving prevention work and staff training, to make sure our crews are ready to help when needed.

"This will help us make the best use of our resources – we’d still have the fire cover we need to keep Surrey safe during the day and night but we’d be able to step up our community safety work to prevent emergencies in the first place.

"And when we do need to respond, we want to do so as quickly as possible, so we’re taking steps such as reducing the time it takes between a call coming in and our firefighters leaving the station."

Full details on the plan can be seen on the Surrey County Council website.

The public consultation is running until 26 May 2019. You can have your say here.

 

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