SWEEPING cuts to the county’s fire service have been approved today (September 22).
West Sussex County Council gave the green light on a decision to axe £1.6 million from West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service’s budget – resulting in the loss of four fire engines and 18 firefighters.
The worst affected stations are at Chichester and Bognor, with both set to lose three firefighters and Midhurst and Petworth each set to lose an engine.
Littlehampton’s remains relatively unscathed by the changes, which will take place over the next 12 months.
The town’s station will house one more fire engine, currently held at a temporary base in Horsham.
The announcement of the cuts has raised fears over the future flexibility and safety of the service.
Tristan Ashby from the Retained Firefighters Union (RFU), said the removal of frontline appliances ‘will have an effect on the service, despite claims otherwise’.
He added: “There are other areas where bigger savings could be made. A business wouldn’t incur such an unnecessary loss, so why should the public? It beggars belief.
“What resilience will there be if there are fewer retained firefighters and appliances?”
West Sussex County Council’s cabinet member for residents’ services, Lionel Barnard said: “This isn’t just about money. If we didn’t have to save a penny these changes would still be needed because this is about improving our service and building a fire service that is fit for the 21st century.
“The world of fire and rescue is changing. Prevention is the name of the game.
“We have listened to everyone who contacted us with views about the proposals during the 12-week consultation, and I’ve taken the decision I have because the evidence is there to support it.
“The number of emergency calls the fire service receives has fallen, and the types of incident crews respond to has changed. We need to adapt our service to reflect this.”
However, even by the fire service’s own estimates the changes could lead to three extra deaths in 100 years and £80,000 worth of property damage across the county.
It also said removing second engines at Midhurst, Petworth and Storrington could ‘increase in the time it takes for the second quickest fire engine to attend an incident’.
Criticising the move, former firefighter Tony Morris said removing the engines would reduce flexibility and estimations were ‘overly optimistic’.
“A full analysis using more data is likely to show that cost will be much greater,” he said.
“Common sense says that with fewer firefighters there will be more occasions when fire engines become unavailable.”
The service says it is ‘bending over backwards’ to avoid making compulsory redundancies, instead offering voluntary redundancies and roles elsewhere in the service.
Lee Neale is the director of public protection and deputy chief fire officer for the county. He said the proposals were ‘a very emotive subject’, but were changes to the way the service is delivered, rather than simply cuts.
“It’s difficult to convince everybody that removing a fire engine is a good thing,” he said.
“But it’s really important to understand that this is not a West Sussex issue, but a national issue.
“We are not going to be putting firefighters at risk with these proposals.”