Essex firefighter’s stark warning over cuts: ‘people will die’

Colchester fire crews. Library image.

Colchester fire crews. Library image. - Credit: Archant

“People will die” if proposed cuts to Essex fire brigade go ahead, a firefighter has warned.

Speaking anonymously to the East Anglian Daily Times the firefighter, with two decades’ experience, claimed plans to remove second fire crews or make them retained instead of whole-time could have disastrous consequences.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) is currently consulting on three options under its modernisation programme, in response to a decrease in call-outs and a growing emphasis on preventative work.

Under the proposals Dovercourt fire station will only have on-call firefighters, instead of using them at the weekend, while Clacton’s second fire engine will either become on-call or be removed completely.

Frinton could also lose its second fire engine in two of the options.

ECFRS says the changes manage risk in a different way, but the firefighter says delays in reaching a call could prove fatal.

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They said: “There is no doubt in my mind people will die because of these cuts.

“The second crew might be 10, 15, 20 minutes away, but it is time critical. In a crash there is the so-called ‘golden hour’ within which if you get to hospital you have massively higher chances of survival.

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“Turning up with a machine less puts the public’s lives, and ours, at risk.

“If you – or a family member – are trapped in a burning house or car, or rubble from an explosion, you want two fire engines as a minimum mobilised straight away.

“These do not happen all the time – but you want the service there when it does.

“Yes the call-outs have changed. But it is not about what we don’t do, but what we do go to.

“We are dealing with something which cannot be quantified.

“Who is most likely to die? The weak or children, those unable to get out.

“Can you put a price on that? Would people pay a couple of quid extra a year to know if they had a fire they would have two pumps coming? I think I know the answer.”

The firefighter’s view has been backed by Riccardo La Torre, Eastern region Fire Brigade Union secretary, who added: “The longer it takes for us to get to you the more chance you have of dying, and it will take longer to get to you.

“They say they will get a fire engine out, but to make a life-saving intervention safely you need that second appliance. Or you risk firefighters’ safety.

“Can you imagine the first crew just sitting there with someone stuck? They are not going to do that.

“Local fire chiefs and the fire authority have had this problem put on them by government, they have not asked for this.”

An ECFRS spokesman said: “In the last ten years we have seen the number of incidents reduce by more than half as prevention work has had hugely positive impacts. The plans see an extra £3million invested in this work.

“The options we have put forward provide the right balance between prevention, protection and response while ensuring the service remains financially viable.

“They were created following extensive modelling which showed under all the proposals the right resources would be available and be able to get to any incident within our target response times.”

The FBU is urging the public to back option two as a “least worst” option, but calls for the £3m for preventative work to be put back into the frontline, with firefighters taking on more community work.

The consultation runs until April 25. To take part visit the ECFRS web site.

The proposals:

Under all the options five stations – including Dovercourt in north Essex – will have their day-crew system replaced with on-call shifts, meaning there will be no permanent presence at them.

Manningtree’s all-terrain vehicle will be removed as ECFRS retires its four Pinzgauers, which are reaching the end of their operational life. Only Dunmow fire station will definitely see the specialist vehicle replaced with a second fire engine.

Proposal one:

Reduction from 570 to 360 full-time firefighters, with increase in on-call from 437 to 466.

ECFRS would have 64 fire engines, down from 74, with 15 full-time and 49 on-call crews.

The proposal would save £8.6m.

The second fire engine would be removed from seven fire stations, including Frinton.

Two fire stations, including Clacton, would have their second fire engine staffed by on-call firefighters instead of full-time ones.

Proposal two:

Reduction to 432 full-time firefighters, and an increase in on-call to 456.

ECFRS would have 66 fire engines, with 18 full-time and 48 on-call crews.

The proposal would save £6.4m.

The second fire engine would be removed from five fire stations, including Frinton.

Clacton fire station would have its second fire engine staffed by on-call firefighters instead of full-time ones.

Proposal three:

Reduction to 336 full-time firefighters and increase in on-call to 467.

ECFRS would have 64 fire engines, with 14 full-time and 50 on-call crews.

The proposal would save £10m.

The second fire engine would be removed from seven fire stations, including Clacton.

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