Firefighters protest over crews shake-up

ANGRY firefighters mounted protests outside fire stations in Essex yesterday as new crewing arrangements were implemented by management.

Roddy Ashworth

ANGRY firefighters mounted protests outside fire stations in Essex yesterday as new crewing arrangements were implemented by management.

Firefighters claim the new system introduced by Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) will lead to real-term cuts in the number of frontline officers available for emergencies.

However, ECFRS hit back at the union, claiming that current industrial action - meaning members are refusing to “act up” or work overtime - was putting lives at risk.

The new system put in place by ECFRS changes the way special appliances like rescue tenders and aerial ladder appliances are crewed.

It was introduced for the first time yesterday at fire stations in Colchester, Chelmsford and Harlow.

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In Colchester, firefighters attached large signs to trees along Cowdray Avenue - close to the town's main fire station - warning that the new system constituted cuts in emergency cover and would lead to a reduction in safety.

The FBU claims that the arrangements mean there will only be enough firefighters to crew three of the four appliances currently manned at the three fire stations - two fire engines and two specialist vehicles - even if they are all needed in a 999 emergency.

FBU Regional Secretary Adrian Clarke said: “The fact is that no matter how technologically advanced a fire engine is, it becomes utterly useless if it's left sitting idle in a fire station without a driver and fire crew on board - the fire service equivalent of the Marie Celeste.

“Our job is all about saving lives in an emergency and for us every second counts.

“Just as night follows day, inevitably there will be occasions when all the fire engines at a fire station will be needed to deal with 999 emergencies but these cuts will mean we will not be able to respond, or there will be a delay, due to a lack of firefighters.

“And that can mean the difference between life and death.

“The chief says that, 'statistically', this won't happen that often.

“Well, it will be of little comfort to the injured or the bereaved to be told that they were 'statistically' unlucky to have suffered the emergency when they did.”

However, ECFRS's director of operations and resilience, Assistant Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter, said: “By its own industrial action in refusing to act up and work overtime, the FBU is attempting to frustrate our long standing, resilient procedures for keeping the maximum number of fire appliances available 24/7.

“This industrial action is therefore aimed at reducing the number of fire appliances we have available, which could put public lives at risk.

“In contrast, we are doing our best to maintain business as usual and keep the public safe.

“The new crewing arrangements are not 'cuts', simply a way of ECFRS maximising its resources by using its crews in the most efficient and effective manner.

“In three out of four brigades in the rest of the country, the FBU has accepted the crewing arrangements we are proposing in Essex.

“The same number of firefighters and officers will be available at every incident.

“There will, however, be less firefighters and officers left behind at stations.

“These changes enable us to use these freed up posts in areas such as extra training officers on stations to develop and maintain our skills at rescuing people trapped in vehicles and also our breathing apparatus training.”

ACFO Hunter added that ECFRS had put contingency plans in place if the FBU's current industrial action escalated into a strike.

“We have comprehensive contingency plans in place should industrial action be stepped up tomorrow or at any time in the future.

“So for ECFRS it will be as we have maintained all along - business as usual.

“The public should be reassured that there will be no interruption to our emergency response.”

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