Union fears over fire service shake-up

PROPOSALS to change Essex firefighters' shift patterns to make the service "more flexible" were slammed last night as paving the way for job cuts. Essex Fire Authority has said its plans to introduce new working practices will help the service move away from a "one size fits all" work pattern with many firefighters on four, 12-hour shifts each week.

PROPOSALS to change Essex firefighters' shift patterns to make the service "more flexible" were slammed last night as paving the way for job cuts.

Essex Fire Authority has said its plans to introduce new working practices will help the service move away from a "one size fits all" work pattern with many firefighters on four, 12-hour shifts each week.

Bosses say the changes will open opportunities for people from a wider range of backgrounds to enter the service.

But the fire brigades union has described the changes as "extremely controversial", claiming they may cause problems for firefighters with young families or who care for relatives.


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The fire authority's Integrated Risk Management Plan – a blueprint for how the brigade will operate in the future – argues the alternatives will stimulate good employee relations and retention by adapting to a growing 24/7 lifestyle.

"An increasing number of employees now require a greater flexibility in their working patterns to allow them to achieve a better balance between work, home and all the other priorities that must be juggled," states the plan, which the authority is required to produce by the Government.

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The current shift patterns will now be reviewed with bosses saying if changes are not made opportunities to adopt family-friendly working practices will be missed.

Latest figures show less than 4% of full-time operational staff are women and less than 0.4% of workers are from ethnic backgrounds.

But last night, Graham Noakes the regional secretary for the fire brigades union in East Anglia, said he did not envisage any advantages from the proposals.

He said: "This is extremely controversial. Of all the proposals, this is potentially the most serious of them all.

"The only reason there can be to changing the shift pattern is to reduce the number of staff. There are no benefits to the organisation from that – this can't be good for people's health and safety and can't be good for the fire service.

"They have got to be able to justify what they are doing and we can't really see any operational advantages and there are no benefits to the service delivery."

He said the current system worked because it allowed staff to spend significant amounts of time with children or caring for relatives.

Writing about the plan, chief fire officer, David Turner, said: "Integrated risk management planning is about improving public safety, reducing the number of fire incidents and sets out opportunities to develop community safety, operational and organisational effectiveness.

"This year's plan will continue with the theme of having the right people, with the right skills, doing the right things, in the right places, at the right time."

Other key features of the blueprint include finding more innovative methods to send fire prevention messages to groups who are particularly vulnerable – especially for those in the 65-plus age group.

Officers intend to visit 10,000 homes and fit up to 11,000 smoke detectors in the first year.

The fire authority is also looking at creating two new posts dealing with the potential for civil emergencies such as terrorist attacks.

It also intends to set up a purpose-built, interactive "life safety centre" providing scenarios to raise awareness about potential dangers in all aspects of society. It will be available for both adults and children.

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