Hertfordshire County Council approves cuts to fire crews
PUBLISHED: 18:30 09 July 2019 | UPDATED: 18:32 09 July 2019
Hertfordshire County Council cabinet approved plans to cut fire crews from five to four yesterday.
The proposal - outlined as part of a package of plans for the future of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, known as the IRMP, earlier this year - has prompted fears that the public and firefighters could be put at greater risk.
When voting on Monday the cabinet said that the public has been broadly in favour of the plans, but raised concerns during the three-month consultation over the cut to crews from four to five.
Hertfordshire's Chief Fire Officer, Darryl Keen, said: "We have taken on board the concerns raised to us by staff and the public around some of the proposals.
"Of course, the welfare of our residents and firefighters has always been our number one priority, which is why we would not introduce any new measures without a full and thorough assessment.
"We are confident that these proposals will provide a foundation for a longer-term approach to mitigating risks in the county while delivering an innovative and modern fire service which is able to respond to aspects such as climate change and development across Hertfordshire."
Hertfordshire Fire Brigades Union Secretary Daren Scotchford, prior to the IRMP's approval, raised significant concerns with a number of proposals contained within the draft plan.
"We are particularly concerned that, despite widespread public opposition to reducing crew sizes from five firefighters to four on frontline appliances, the IRMP still proposes this reduction," Mr Scotchford said.
"We would urge the county council to think again on this and other proposed cuts, as we believe they will be to the detriment of both firefighters and the public's safety and welfare."
"Our members are prepared to defend their service and all options to achieve this remain on the table."
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Reported incidents have been increasing in recent years, with crews going to a total of 1,216 in the Welwyn Hatfield and Potters Bar area, 2,172 in North Herts and 874 in St Albans in 2017-18.
But the revised IRMP argues that having a crew with four firefighters is "appropriate and cost effective".
It says the vast majority of appliances in the county are already crewed with a maximum of four, and suggests that reducing the size of crews may even improve cover in some areas of the county.
"This will then provide a better and more even spread of firefighters across the entire county which will significantly improve our day time fire cover in more rural areas," the report says.
The IRMP stated that trying to crew an engine with a certain number of firefighters can lead to an inflated response to serious incidents - meaning that if 60 personnel are required to go to a scene at any one time a total of 248 personnel can actually be used for the whole response.
Herts County Council cabinet member for community safety, Cllr Terry Hone, said: "We want to continue to improve as an organisation to make sure we are meeting the changing needs of our communities and to mitigate the risks they face."
Meanwhile councillors were asked to back a recommendation to trial a new 'rapid response vehicle' - which would have a crew of three - at Watford Fire Station.
"Based on extensive research, new, smaller vehicles will improve HFRS's response time to common incidents like road traffic collisions," the HCC has argued.
This would be in addition to the two existing Watford fire engines.
Critics may have dismissed them in the past as "a car with 30 litres of water and a pressure hose", but fire chiefs insist the vehicles will be equipped to deal with 80 per cent of calls - with the added ability to navigate their way around smaller streets more quickly.
The IRMP was able to go to council due to approval by the community safety and waste management cabinet panel - made up of Conservative and Lib Dem councillors - that ultimately approved it with only the two Labour councillors on the panel voting against.
HCC has also applauded the training done by firefighters and police officers alongside each other at a joint academy in Stevenage - which the IRMP plan also wishes to continue.