Fire boss backs EADT campaign

FIRE union leader Andy Gilchrist last night backed the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to fight against the creation of regional fire brigades.Mr Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), insisted the case had not been made for scrapping county brigades and replacing them with regional forces.

FIRE union leader Andy Gilchrist last night backed the East Anglian Daily Times' campaign to fight against the creation of regional fire brigades.

Mr Gilchrist, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union (FBU), insisted the case had not been made for scrapping county brigades and replacing them with regional forces.

Speaking after delivering a keynote speech at the TUC Congress in Brighton, he urged readers to support the EADT's No To Regional Fire Service campaign and safeguard what he called the "well performing and incredibly efficient" brigades in Suffolk and Essex.

More than 750 people have signed an EADT petition to oppose regional brigades, which will be presented to Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott.

"This is not a listening Government, and anything that will force them to listen is a help," said Mr Gilchrist.

"The case has not been made for regionalisation and we want the Government to leave our fire services alone and not make them suffer this bad policy."

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The leader of Britain's firefighters was speaking to the EADT after warning unions the service was in serious danger because of planned reforms.

He said the British brigade was the "finest fire service in the world" and attacked Mr Prescott's move towards regionalisation, revealed in July's White Paper.

It could lead to stations, control rooms and fire cover being merged and the eventual formation of one brigade for the entire East of England.

"There are 58 fire authorities in the United Kingdom, all directly accountable to the people who are paying for them," he said.

"We are already meeting the Government's very rigorous targets so what is the purpose of dismantling what we have got and reconstructing the fire service on a regional basis? There is already a process in place for brigades to work together on major incidents.

"We have decades worth of experience and knowledge and these are incredibly efficient and well performing fire services."

He added: "We are a progressive trade union and if somebody presented us with a coherent argument in terms of saving lives and property we would look at it – but it hasn't been done."

But a spokesman for the Office of the Deputed Prime Minister said last night: "Operationally, there is a persuasive argument for fire and rescue services to be organised on a regional basis.

"Dealing with procurement, human resources and other aspects of the fire and rescue service, increasing at regional level will increase efficiency.

"It will also increase the service's capacity to deal with the modernisation agenda as well as large scale emergencies like possible terrorist attacks."

Mr Gilchrist told the TUC Congress that over the past 20 years firefighters' workload had doubled even though jobs had been cut.

He said firefighters were tired of politicians accusing them of being engaged in Spanish practices or refusing to accept modernisation.

He said: "The Government's present proposals for the reform of the fire service are an irresponsible leap in the dark.

"They are ending the national fire standards which have protected the public so well and they are putting nothing in their place.

"If these reforms go through, all of our towns and cities will have their own standards and we will have fire cover by postcode. Where you live will vitally influence your chances of being rescued in a fire."

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