Firefighters concerned over service revamp

Firefighters concerned over service revamp

AN OPEN letter from firefighters on the Isle of Wight has been sent to councillors, raising ‘serious concerns’ over the safety of planned changes.

On The Wight hosted the letter from firefighters in the Isle of Wight Fire and Rescue Service (IWFRS), which has been distributed by the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) on their behalf to ‘all members of the Isle of Wight Council’. The letter points out the lack of consultation and ‘unnecessary haste’ to agree the planned changes, with all firefighters submitting the letter currently serving on the island.

The letter notes that the firefighters are contacting the council at ‘unavoidable short notice’ over concerns on the restructuring of IWFRS, noting that ‘we have been told the options are no longer being put forward for public consultation and would urge you to question why this process is being rushed through’. They prefixed their views by noting that ‘we understand the need for changes’, and that they are ‘open to ideas that will provide a safer and a more resilient service’.

It adds that a committee report stated IWFRS ‘has engaged all staff and trade unions through the service review’, but the preferred option ‘has not been shown to the majority of fire service employees until very recently’, which has left them with ‘serious concerns about the changes that are being proposed’ and the ‘reasons and haste’ behind them.

In detail, a proposed reduction of appliance crews from five to four on the first appliance attending an incident ‘limits the actions that the first crew can take to carry out rescues and tackle the fire until a second appliance arrives’. A second appliance ‘would not be guaranteed to arrive promptly, particularly at night when as few as four wholetime crew may be immediately available for the whole island’.

Additionally, this would mean IWFRS would ‘rely even more heavily on retained firefighters that have already seen cuts to establishment at most fire stations’. The letter also notes that this initial crew ‘cannot establish a safe system of work at other incidents’ such as road traffic collisions, which rely on a ‘team approach with a minimum first crew of five’.

While other services use this policy, they can ‘rely on the proximity of other wholetime stations to guarantee the next appliance’, and IWFRS ‘will not have this guarantee at night time on the island’. It next moves to note the proposal also ‘does not address the current low numbers and availability of retained firefighters’, with recruitment and retention and utilising availability ‘should be addressed as a priority before proposals that will reduce wholetime posts’.

On this note, the letter states that the proposed options are ‘based on historical incident data rather [than] a current review of risk which has not been implemented’. Next, the letter notes that a peer review of the integrated risk management plan (IRMP) stated that ‘capacity, resilience and sustainability’ were issues, with the current preferred option not stating ‘how it addresses these issues, especially when recommending a reduction in workforce’.

With this ‘locality model’, the proposal suggests there would be an improvement in productivity ‘regarding collaborative working and community safety initiatives’, and the letter notes that while this is a ‘positive aim’, there is ‘no mention of how this will be achieved alongside a 15% reduction in workforce’.

It concluded that ‘we feel that the changes proposed are major and fundamental. There has been a lack of both public and workforce consultation and there seems to be an unnecessary haste in its implementation. This would ultimately seem to be driven by concerns other than that of maintaining a safe and resilient service’.