25th Jul, 2017

Retained firefighters 'couldn’t carry on doing the job' if proposals to 'downgrade' fire cover are approved

Joshua Godfrey 18th Apr, 2017 Updated: 19th Apr, 2017

A LEADING Fire Brigade Union official has claimed retained firefighters in Evesham would have to leave the service if proposals to ‘downgrade’ fire cover at the town’s station are approved.

The claims were made by Steve Gould, Fire Brigade Union (FBU) secretary for Hereford and Worcester and Operational Crew Commander in Evesham, who is fighting to stop Hereford and Worcester Fire Service’s proposed changes to fire cover from being implemented.

As the Observer has previously reported, under the proposals, which are in the early stages of development, the town’s station would only be manned by full time firefighters from 8.40am until 6pm Monday to Friday.

At the weekends and in the evenings, on-call firefighters would be on standby from home as part of a range of proposals to enable Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service to save £800,000.

Mr Gould has said he has spoken to a number of on-call firefighters at Evesham’s station who told him they may have to leave the service if the proposals are approved because of the ‘massive pressures’ it would put on their employers.

He made the claims at an Evesham Town Council meeting on Monday (April 10) where councillors unanimously voted in favour of supporting Mr Gould’s campaign to stop the ‘downgrading’ of fire cover at the town’s fire station.

“From 2016 to 2017, April to April, the wholetime appliance attended 469 incidents; the retained appliance attended 69 incidents,” Mr Gould said at the meeting.

“So, if we were to go to a retained week, weekends and in the evenings, the retained appliance’s call rate would go from 69 to roughly 269 and bearing in mind these people have other jobs, it will put massive pressures on their employers and I’ve even spoken to retained firefighters who said they simply couldn’t carry on doing the job.

“Their call volume will increase four fold – that’s a massive increase for retained firefighters who have other jobs.

“We’re hoping that the retained fire crews will be able to keep two appliances on the run. We already struggle in the daytime in Evesham to keep our retained appliance on the run.”

Hereford and Worcester Fire Service have previously defended the proposals by claiming it will enable the first whole-time fire engine at each station to retain a crew of five, whilst still being able to make savings.

However, Mr Gould added the proposals were being put forward for ‘ideological’ reasons to allow the fire service to recruit a more diverse workforce, which he said should not be at the ‘behest’ of fire cover.

“They’re saying that by bringing in these different shift patterns it help may recruit people into the service, but bringing in under represented groups should not be at the behest of fire cover,” he added.

“Fire cover is our most important job. We do want more females and ethnic minorities in the service, but it shouldn’t be to the detriment of fire cover and to the detriment of our communities.”

The Mayor of Evesham, Coun Fred Kaler, said: “We should give full support, moral and anything else we can do. We should be standing up now, we’re supposed to be representing the community and that’s what we should be doing.”

In response, John Hodges, Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said: “It delivers a whole host of additional benefits such as increasing support to the 31 fire engines crewed by on-call firefighters, introducing more options for staff to work more flexibly and removing the need to work additional hours to cover crewing deficiencies.

“As no final decisions have been made the internal consultation process is designed to take into account all issues, concerns and suggestions raised by staff before any final recommendations are placed before the Fire Authority later this year.”