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Facebook post highlights 'dire straits' of staffing Surrey fire stations

Facebook post highlights 'dire straits' of staffing Surrey fire stations

Published by Lucinda Horsley with contributions by Local Democracy Reporter Rebecca Curley at 6:08pm 15th July 2019.

A social media post claiming to highlight the “dire straits” firefighters are in trying to crew stations and engines in Surrey has been shared more than 300 times. 

Staines Fire Station Facebook Page posted a screenshot claiming to be Surrey Fire and Rescue Service’s rota for last weekend (Saturday, July 13 and Sunday, July 14) as an example of the challenges firefighters are facing. 

In the post published on Tuesday July 9 titled Safety Alert Please Share, it warned that the only fire engines with enough firefighters to crew them would be at Godstone and Leatherhead on Saturday and Sunday, and Godstone, Leatherhead and Sunbury on Sunday. 

It also said that numbers showing how many firefighters on duty should meet a minimum requirement of eight for Woking, Guildford and Camberley and four for all the others. But all were showing fewer staff on duty than these numbers. 

Surrey County Council – the fire authority for Surrey Fire and Rescue Service – said the information was posted on an “unofficial site” and that they have plans in place to deal with emergencies “effectively”. 

But a union rep said the information was a “daily occurrence” for firefighters and would not be a surprise to many. 

The post published on the page which has over 4,000 followers has been shared over 300 times and received over 70 comments.

Surrey County Council recently carried out a consultation over its transformation plan for the struggling fire service which government inspectors reported “serious concerns” over at the end of last year. 

A petition calling on the council to scrap plans to leave seven fire appliances un-crewed at night now has more than 12,000 signatures. 

A council spokesman said:

“This information is from an unofficial social media site and does not explain the whole picture for Surrey.

 “We have tried-and-tested plans in place to make sure we can always deal with emergencies effectively and we continually monitor all our vehicles around the county, using new technology, so that people and equipment are in the right place at the right time. 

“This is undertaken dynamically, by highly trained and experienced staff.

 “Crewing levels naturally vary on a shift by shift basis and we move staff around across the county as required. We also have good working relationships with neighbouring fire services who assist us during peaks in demand and we reciprocate for them when needed.

 “We’ve recently taken on 75 more firefighters, are continuing to recruit and have also published proposals aimed at reducing the number of fires and other emergencies in the county.”

Lee Belsten, secretary of Surrey Fire Brigades Union, said it was a daily occurrence for fire stations and fire engines to be under-staffed in Surrey and that the figures will not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the “catastrophic financial failings” of the fire service. 

He said: “With so little regard for firefighters or control room and support staff, it was inevitable that the service would eventually struggle to provide the basic and minimum level of operational fire cover.

“These issues have been apparent for over eight years, but the service only began its wholly inadequate recruitment drive towards the end of 2018. 

“The Service and Council have become too reliant on overtime. It’s the goodwill of firefighters working over and above their contracted hours to support their colleagues and communities that has kept fire engines available and fire stations open.”

The social media post came as councillors in Surrey County Council heard the new £3.7m state-of-the-art fire station for Fordbridge Road, Ashford will open after the expected handover date of August 31.

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