Union hits out at fire service helicopter plan

A FIRE service plan to buy a helicopter to help with its emergency provision in Essex was yesterday dismissed as “totally unnecessary” and “toys for the boys” by the Fire Brigades Union.

Roddy Ashworth

A FIRE service plan to buy a helicopter to help with its emergency provision in Essex was yesterday dismissed as “totally unnecessary” and “toys for the boys” by the Fire Brigades Union.

The FBU, which recently voted for industrial action over planned cutbacks, said any available money should be spent on frontline fire services threatened with cuts because of the budget squeeze.

The union is accusing the Essex Fire Authority of planning to cut one in 10 frontline station-based firefighters in a bid to save �3 million.


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But it highlighted a recent fire authority meeting at which the prospect of buying a helicopter for the service was approved.

Essex Fire Brigades Union chair Keith Flynn said: “Frontline crews are furious the fire authority is demanding major cuts to the 999 emergency response, while taking steps to buy a helicopter.

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“This is the worst kind of 'toys for the boys' spending in the middle of a budget squeeze.

“No other fire authority in the UK has a helicopter.

“It is totally unnecessary and especially so now.

“Every penny of any available money must go to protecting the frontline 999 emergency response service.

“The fire authority needs to get its head out of the clouds and come back down to the real world where the rest of us live.”

However, a spokesman for the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service (ECFRS) hit out at the FBU for trying to “misrepresent” the possible acquisition of a helicopter.

He said the authority had agreed it would only consider buying the aircraft if outside funding or sponsorship were made available.

And he dismissed the union's claim that one in 10 firefighters' jobs were under threat, saying that out of around 1,500 frontline firefighting posts, the authority's current proposals would see 54 phased out over three years and with no compulsorily redundancies.

Yesterday Assistant Chief Fire Officer Gordon Hunter said: “The latest claim that the service is purchasing a helicopter at the expense of firefighter jobs is yet another example of misrepresenting cold hard facts.

“The real truth is that the service has carried out a feasibility study into the viability of using a helicopter to augment the service's operational capability.

“The feasibility study clearly showed that a helicopter would be an asset to our capability - however the Chief Fire Officer has clearly stated to the Fire Authority in an official, publicly available report that the project would only be viable if external funding could be secured.

“Copies of this report are available on our website.

“The management team is doing its best to keep the public and our firefighters informed of facts.

“All we ask is that the FBU do the same.”

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