Exmouth faces longer waits for fire engines if town’s 24/7 cover is cut, firefighters warn

Campaigners fighting to keep Exmouth’s round-the-clock fire cover said the public is unaware of the time it will take crews to respond if the service is slashed.

Exmouth firefighters were in the Magnolia Centre on Tuesday, drumming up public support to keep the town’s 24/7 fire service, which is at threat of becoming a day-crewed station, with on-call night cover.

The town’s off-duty firefighters were collecting public signatures opposing Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service’s (DSFRS) cost cutting proposal, Safer Together; the consultation proposing to cut crewing hours, close stations, remove fire engines and introduce roving fire cover, runs until Friday, September 20.

Chris Gibbs, watch manager at Exmouth, said the meet and greet had shown firefighters how unaware the public were of the proposed cuts and the resulting impact.

He said the public had spoken of problems understanding the ‘complicated’ options set out in the DSFRS consultation document, and difficulties with sessions timing out when completing the online opinion form.

Mr Gibbs said: “There was a lot of concern about the proposal to shut stations at Topsham and Budleigh Salterton and make Exmouth day crewed only.

“People didn’t realise it would take the retained crew eight to eleven minutes to get to them.

“They don’t really know the difference between whole-time and retained firefighters. They just pay their council tax and the fire engine turns up – they don’t realise how.

“There was a lot of concern about how hard East Devon has been hit; it would only take one incident to completely deplete the cover.”

“In the three hours we were there, we collected 240 signatures. A lot of members of the public were unaware that this public consultation was going on and of the proposed changes.”

Mr Gibbs said there were valid reasons for retaining Exmouth’s full-time station cover, citing Budleigh’s ageing population, the number of gas cylinders located at Sandy Bay,  A la Ronde’s heritage site and the use of chemicals by the town’s businesses, such as EuroTech, plus an ever-growing community, including protecting homes at Cranbrook.

He said: “It does feel a little bit like the service is trying to divide and conquer.

“The firefighters at Exmouth want to provide a 24/7 service but if we fight it might impact on Budleigh and Topsham because almost certainly, they will close.

“We are trying to make it a team effort as much as possible. But we want a 24/7 service in Exmouth ideally.

“We are standing with the Fire Brigade Union that no one should have to lose their job.”

Exmouth town councillor Fred Caygill joined firefighters campaigning in the Magnolia Centre.

He said after their primary roles of fighting fires, attending road traffic collisions and supporting paramedics, firefighters were trained in swift water, rope and mud rescues, making daytime cover cuts in Exmouth ‘wholly unacceptable’.

Councillor Caygill said: “It is important to note, our river estuary is seven square miles and has a considerable amount of mud.”

He added: “Back in the mid-90s the station was changed from a day-only cover station to a 24/7 station.

“The justifications for this are probably greater now than they were back over 20 years ago.

“To change Exmouth fire station back to day manning would be a retrograde step and in my personal view, is wholly unacceptable.”

DSFRS is canvasing Devon and Somerset residents until September 22, 2019, about a range of options to save the service money, including station closures, slashing crewing hours and removing fire engines.

Collating fire statistics based on call-outs and rescues from across the two counties has prompted DSFRS to call for changes to be made to the way it works.

Proposals for Budleigh and Colyton are to close its fire station; Exmouth faces a change of status to day crewing and on-call night cover; proposed for Honiton and Sidmouth is a change of status of a second fire engine to on-call cover at night only.

DSFRS said it plans to introduce six roving fire crews to cover Devon and Somerset.

For the consultation document, see here and also the survey.

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