Fire service cuts on cards, fears FBU
A COUNTY Councillor is demanding answers over increasing speculation that Suffolk Fire Service is about to make swingeing cuts.The EADT has learned firefighters and union officials are becoming “gravely” concerned over rumours the county's fire chiefs are proposing a series of major cuts in the service as part of its latest risk management plan, which will be introduced in 2005.
A COUNTY Councillor is demanding answers over increasing speculation that Suffolk Fire Service is about to make swingeing cuts.
The EADT has learned firefighters and union officials are becoming “gravely” concerned over rumours the county's fire chiefs are proposing a series of major cuts in the service as part of its latest risk management plan, which will be introduced in 2005.
It is feared up to 24 firefighter jobs and three fire appliances will be axed from the county. It is also rumoured that one of Suffolk's two turntable ladders is to be manned by retained staff only, leaving it available only on a delayed turn-out basis.
It has been suggested that one of the two appliances at Sudbury, and others in Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich, will be scrapped if the rumoured proposals are adopted as part of the plan.
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The speculation was fuelled after a meeting scheduled for earlier this week between fire service bosses and the county's Fire Brigades Union officials to discuss proposals in the plan was suddenly postponed.
Suffolk County Council is refusing to comment on the speculation but Sudbury's county councillor Nick Irwin is asking why no-one will deny the claims if they are not true.
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If the cuts do take place it is bound to cause a storm of protest, particularly in Sudbury, which saw its station downgraded to retained status just a few years ago despite huge public opposition.
Mr Irwin said: “I have heard these rumours and I know two firefighters who say they are worried about the situation. If there is no foundation to the speculation why can't they just come out and tell us that in black and white, I suspect there is good reason why they won't do that.
“It would be ridiculous to take an appliance away from Sudbury, when you consider the major expansion that is about to take place in the area.
“The people of the town still can't understand why our full-time firefighters were taken away just a few years ago, and it seems we are going to get the rough end of the stick again.
“The people of Sudbury and the surrounding area will be at great risk if we suffer yet more cut backs in our fire cover.
“The model for a Government worker is honesty, openness and integrity, so if these rumours are not true why don't the fire chiefs come out a put the record straight openly and honestly.”
The county's union chiefs say they are very concerned about the speculation. They say Monday's planned meeting with management was postponed because fire chiefs failed to meet members of Suffolk County Council's public protection panel last week as planned.
Chairman of the Suffolk Fire Brigades Union Vince Jell said: “Both the workforce and union officials are very concerned over the rumours there will be major cuts in the service. Speculation is very strong.
“We had hoped to meet management on Monday to discuss the proposals of the plan and get the facts, but that meeting was postponed, which has just fuelled the speculation.
“The strongest rumours are that 24 jobs could be lost and that Sudbury will lose its second appliance. There is also talk that one of the turntable ladders will be covered by retained firefighters, meaning it will only be available on delayed turnout.
“We do have grave concerns over the speculation and to why the meeting was cancelled. If these rumours are not true why don't the management come out and say so.”
Another Suffolk-based firefighter, who didn't want to be named, said there were strong rumours one appliance may also be axed in Bury and another from one of the two stations in Ipswich.
Under new regulations introduced last year independent fire authorities now have the powers of setting their own levels of fire cover. The new regime replaces the old system, which was set nationally.
Fire authorities are now required by the Government to draw up an integrated risk management plan on an annual basis.
Fire chiefs are currently drawing up a draft plan to go before Suffolk County Council's executive committee in November. If the proposals of the plan are then agreed there will be a three-month public consultation exercise before the final plan is adopted in 2005.
County public protection portfolio holder Peter Monk said: “The Government requires us to regularly review our pattern of fire cover against the risks faced by our communities. As part of the early preparation for next year's plan we have to consider options for reviewing all stations, whether single or multi-pump. Nothing has been decided yet, that will be a matter for the fire authority in November.”