Cheshire Fire & Rescue Service has spent millions of pounds on new fire stations but with fewer firefighters available and slower attendance times adding up to a ‘worse’ service.
That’s the view of West Cheshire Trades Union Council in response to the Integrated Risk Management Plan 2017/18 consultation.
The fire service argues the plan is about improving public safety, reducing the number of emergency incidents and saving lives.
But TUC vice chairman Ray McHale said: “It seems to us that the CF & RS have been willing to spend millions in capital development – largely funded by the government – in order to make our service worse. We do not consider this a good use of public money.
“The thrust of all these developments has been to both reduce the number of firefighters attending incidents and to increase the time taken for them to arrive.”
Mr McHale explained: “More specifically it is the attendance time for a second fire engine that has been increased. As the Fire Brigades Union point out, the attendance of eight or nine firefighters on scene can be vital to certain rescue scenarios – usually the most life-threatening.”
He said delays in the arrival of the vital second pump in a life-threatening scenario could put firefighters ‘under intense personal pressure’ at the scene.
And the retired Unison official suggested the opening of new stations like the one at Powey Lane, Mollington, was ‘not designed to improve the service but to facilitate cuts to the service’.
That’s because it will result in a reduction in the number of full time fire engines covering Chester and Ellesmere Port from four to three.
In future, Chester and Ellesmere Port stations will have just one full-time engine each instead of two now, with a back-up pump at the new station covering both areas.
Mr McHale continued: “Basically the impact of these cuts will be shown in the increased attendance time for the second fire engine – as these new stations provide that back-up over a wider geographical area. The fact that the CF&RS does not publish figures for the attendance time of second and subsequent engines can only be viewed as intended to hide the real impact of these cuts – particularly the cuts in full-time firefighters.”
West Cheshire TUC is also concerned at the increasing reliance on part-time ‘on call’ firefighters and called for a serious analysis of the effectiveness of this strategy.
“Again, this move toward the increasing use of on call firefighters is fundamental to the changes being pursued by the service – and should be subject to a full and transparent cost benefit analysis – specifically addressing the impact upon the attendance time of second engines – before more permanent posts are cut,” concluded Mr McHale.
A spokesperson for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “All the feedback received during our IRMP consultation, including that submitted by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) and the West Cheshire TUC, will be reviewed in detail prior to the final decision by the fire authority at a public meeting in February. In addition, FBU representatives have also been invited to the authority’s January planning day to discuss their response in more detail.”