Fire service looks to make money as budget cuts loom

THE number of fire stations and frontline vehicles in Essex will not be reduced in the next round of public service spending cuts, the county’s fire chief has said.

Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) will see its annual budget of �73 million slashed by about 25% when the government announces its comprehensive spending review on October 20.

Chief fire officer David Johnson said their “starting point” was to keep all of the county’s 51 fire stations open and 100 frontline appliances in operation.

However, he said that they would have to “look closely” at the way some of the services were run in light of inevitable job cuts.

ECFRS employs about 500 retained and 900 fulltime firefighters, but Mr Johnson said he would not know how many jobs were at risk until after the government’s announcement.

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To continue to provide a full fire service on a reduced budget, ECFRS has launched its ‘grow to survive’ approach. This involves expanding the role of the fire and rescue service where its skills and expertise can be used to commercial advantage while safeguarding its own core activities.

“We are just about to tender to run human resources for Maldon District Council and we will look to provide similar services for councils across Essex,” said Mr Johnson.

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“Also we have a team of highly skilled engineers who look after our fire engines at the fleet management centre in Lexden. We are now looking to take on the maintenance of Braintree council’s refuse trucks.

“We are so much more than just water squirters - we can provide a range of different services at a reduced cost to the taxpayer.”

The fire service is trialling a scheme in Tiptree where their building is shared with Essex Police and this format is likely to be expanded to 10 other areas across the county.

At a meeting at the fire service headquarters in Kelvedon yesterday, Fire Minister Bob Neill said that the service was an “exemplar of Big Society”.

“There’s dynamism in the fire sector which fits in well with the government’s agenda,” he said. “It already works with a retained service and is driven by localism.

“The government is creating a framework to make it easier for people to think outside the box and Essex is showing an imaginative approach to service delivery.”

Deputy chief fire officer Gordon Hunter said that in order to cover a patch of almost 400,000 hectares and a population of more than 1.5 million people, partnership working was essential.

“I believe that we have been an exemplar of localism in action for many years,” he said. “We have always been seeking ways that we can work jointly with other organisations to improve our mutual ability to make the communities of Essex more resilient and safer.”

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