Fire cuts: Chief admits to East Devon MP ‘changes will inevitably affect response times’

Fire engines will take longer to arrive at an emergency in East Devon once stations close and cover is cut, the chief fire officer has admitted.

Confirmation fire engines will be slower arriving in an emergency if station cuts and closures go ahead has come from fire chief Lee Howell, confessing cash-saving changes will ‘’inevitably affect response times’.

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) chief fire officer Lee Howell divulged waits for fire engines would take longer in East Devon in a letter to Sir Hugo Swire MP, as seen by

The fire chief told the Member of Parliament that East Devon’s firefighters would be expected to cover the same areas after any cuts and closures, but the public would have to wait longer for them to arrive.

Mr Howell told Sir Hugo: ‘With reference to seeking assurances for your constituents in both areas that there would be no reduction in response coverage and timings, whilst our response coverage will remain as currently, the proposed changes will inevitably affect response times by their nature.’

He added: ‘We have, however, carried out significant risk response modeling, reflecting the levels of risk in these areas, and the response proposals aim to ensure a continued level of service reflective of our Emergency Response Standards.’

The fire chief’s admission surfaced in the same week Sir Hugo visited fire stations across East Devon under threat of closure or reduced cover through the DSFRS Safer Together cost-cutting consultation.

Sir Hugo spoke to firefighters where DSFRS had proposed to make changes in crew levels and cover, or close stations, including Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Topsham.

His fact-finding mission included speaking to frontline firefighters about the risks posed by the fire service consultation and how the proposed cuts and closures would impact on public safety. understands Sir Hugo was ‘supportive’ of firefighters’ concerns, and ‘of the opinion that any slower turnout time was bad for his constituents’; he discussed how cuts would cause longer turnout times, building new fire stations in other areas of East Devon, such as Cranbrook, and the £35million-plus savings held in reserve by DSFRS.

The East Devon MP spoke to firefighters after Mr Howell told him how Budleigh and Topsham were ‘low risk’ areas.

The chief fire officer said:

  • Topsham fire engine could move to Middlemoor or Clyst St George if the town’s fire station closed.
  • Much of Budleigh’s cover came from neighbouring Exmouth fire station.
  • East Devon’s extra fire cover could come from roving, mobile, crews in areas deemed high risk or where extra help was needed.
  • DSFRS’s aim was to ‘stop fires happening in the first instance’, reducing any need for fire crews to respond.

In his letter to Sir Hugo, the chief fire officer said: ‘Our coverage and response approach will continue to use dynamic mobilisation of appliances where we deploy the nearest available appliance irrespective of the nearest station.

‘The risk in these areas is also low, resulting in low levels of incidents to be responded to.

‘With Topsham station the appliances attended 18 incidents in their station area in 2018 (excluding co-responding) out of the 20 that occurred (excluding co-responding).

‘The Budleigh Salterton appliance attended 15 incidents in its station area during 2018 (excluding co-responding) of the 49 incidents that were attended.

‘The remaining were attended by other appliances, such as from the nearby Exmouth station.

‘Whilst the proposals include the closure of Topsham fire station, one of the appliances is proposed to be based at the nearby wholetime Middlemoor station, alleviating the impact.

‘A potential further improvement on this, following feedback through our consultation, is considering locating this appliance at our headquarters in Clyst St George.

‘This has many benefits, including being very close to Topsham with a relatively accessible fast route to it, and some on-call firefighters based at our headquarters and more easily able to mobilise.

‘To further support our overall incident response, one proposal includes the introduction of roving appliances. In addition to supporting prevention and protection activities, these could be flexibly located at times of the day, week or year where risk may be higher and provide additional response support if needed.’

Mr Howell added: ‘One of the key aims of our proposals is to significantly invest in prevention and protection activities.

‘Through this we can stop fires happening in the first instance, reducing the need for response at all.

‘We are looking to target particular groups for this prevention support, for example the elderly, those more vulnerable, and support them in very practical ways.’

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (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 ‘switching off’ fire engines.

Under the proposals set out by the fire service:

  • Topsham fire station is at risk of closing, relocating one of the town’s fire engines almost ten minutes’ away to Middlemoor.
  • Budleigh Salterton and Colyton fire stations could also close.
  • Downgrade Exmouth fire station from 24/7 full time cover to day crew (full-time firefighters) and on-call (retained) night crewing.
  • ‘Switching off’ Sidmouth and Honiton’s second fire engines. Both towns will have one daytime fire engine and crew; the second fire engine and on-call crew will only be available from 6pm until 8am.

The DSFRS public consultation ends on Sunday, September 22. Read the document here and make your views known by filling in the questionnaire here.


Budleigh Salterton fire station is under threat of closure. Photo:


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