With just days to make your views known on the proposed cuts, closures and changes to fire stations, cover and crewing in Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Sidmouth, Honiton, Colyton and Topsham, www.eastdevonnews.co.uk asked Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service (DSFRS) to answer some questions about the Safer Together consultation, which ends on Sunday, September 22.
Here is what Pete Bond, DSFRS Assistant Chief Fire Officer, said:
Q: How can we be Safer Together if we are losing fire stations, fire engines and crew?
A: We will be making the best use of our resources by moving them to where the risk is greatest and reinvesting more into preventing fires from happening.
Q: DSFRS says it will be investing more money through protection and prevention work. Where is the evidence that this make towns and homes safer? Are the benefits worth the investment when you can’t prevent or remove the risk of fire?
A: It is well accepted nationally that prevention work has been instrumental in helping to dramatically reduce the number and severity of fires over the last ten years. Developments such as more stringent furniture regulations, less people smoking at home, reduced use of chip pans and of course greater smoke alarm ownership have all contributed to making homes safer.
Q: The DSFRS Facebook Live debate stated the need to change fire crew/station/ appliance locations because they had been decided in the 1940s and were outdated. Joe Hassell, DSFRS area manager and head of service delivery, said fire and other incidents had reduced drastically since 1948.
However, on a national level, there has been a fire/incident increase of 250 per cent since 1948, so where is the solid evidence that this has decreased?
A: The location of fire stations prior to 2004 was decided by a national standard of fire cover. Since 2004 each Fire and Rescue Service has had to undertake a regular Integrated Risk Management Planning process to determine that resources are matched to risk. That is the basis for these proposals.
The reduction in fire incidents is a separate matter to this and there is clear evidence of a significant reduction in primary fires both locally and nationally.
Q: Why has DSFRS only looked at fire and road traffic collisions when drawing up the proposals, and not included other statutory duties?
A: Those are our only statutory duties, we aren’t legally obligated to attend other types of incident but have always been determined to help the public in whatever way we can. These statutory duties are also the basis of our funding.
Q: In peak summer season in Exmouth, Sandy Bay holiday park can increase the town’s population of 40,000 by a further 15,000-20,000 people. How can you justify reducing Exmouth’s night time fire cover?
A: The data that was used to inform the proposals will have taken seasonal changes in population into account when determining the risk in that area.
Q: During the Facebook Live conversation, the question was asked ‘have you got direct evidence that prevention saves lives?’, to which the answer was ‘absolutely’. Is this wishful thinking? How can prevention save lives when there are accidental fires, such as the Royal Clarence Hotel? How could DSFRS prevented that fire?
A: No one was injured during the Cathedral Yard fire as the fire safety procedures operated by the hotel enabled the guests to leave the building quickly and safely. Some fires will still occur but the correct early warning system and other fire safety measures enable people to leave the buildings quickly and alert the fire service.
Q: How can it be you are trying to increase daytime fire cover, but propose to take out 30 appliances, switching off second pumps. How can that be an increase in capability?
A: The increase in capability will come in more on-call fire appliances being available where they are needed and by increasing resources in our prevention work.
Q: Honiton and Sidmouth are large residential areas with several big hotels and care homes, requiring at least two appliances for fires. Yet it is proposed to ‘switch off’ both towns’ second appliances during the day. Please explain how this has been justified?
A: The second appliances are not required or available often enough to justify keeping them as they are when the resources would be used more effectively elsewhere. Should an incident occur, the nearest available appliances will attend.
Q: Please explain how you will protect firefighter safety – If Sidmouth’s second fire engine is switched off and there is a large-scale fire in the town, a single crew will be alone until the Exmouth and Seaton crews arrive.
A: The same safety procedures will be in place as exist now. Firefighters are trained to dynamically assess the risks at an incident and take appropriate action. There are many other fire stations in Devon and Somerset which currently have one fire appliance.
Q: Some 23 years ago, in the 1990s, Exmouth’s 24-hour fire cover was at risk of being downgraded but the proposal was scrapped because of risk levels. How has DSFRS decided the risks have reduced when Exmouth’s population and housing has increased?
A: As noted in the answer to question 3 the methodology of assessing local risk has developed and improved to ensure that resources are correctly matched.
Q: Councillors representing Budleigh Salterton, Colaton Raleigh, Otterton, East Budleigh and Exmouth have all said the consultation document is confusing, which has been echoed across Colyton, Topsham, Sidmouth and Honiton by members of the public attempting to fill in the questionnaire.
Why is the data confusing? Why has nothing been done to rectify this before the consultation deadline?
A: There is a lot of complex information in the document and we made every effort to provide all that information in an easy-to-understand format. We couldn’t change the consultation document mid-way through the period as the responses would not have been consistent.
We have received a large volume of enquiries asking for specific detail which we have answered directly and dealt with many questions at our public drop in exhibitions.
Q: Exmouth Town Council want DSFRS to cancel the consultation and provide clearer information and data, saying the current information supplied falsely represents the town. Budleigh Town Council says the information is ‘flawed’ and Neil Parish MP said Colyton will be shut down on ‘false pretenses’ based on statistics in the DSFRS consultation document. DSFRS has been told repeatedly the public information is ‘flawed’. Why has nothing been done to rectify this? How do you respond to this?
A: We are confident that the data provided in the consultation document is accurate and further background information, including the full incident information for each fire station, has been added to our website.
Q: Chief fire officer Lee Howell in a letter to Sir Hugo Swire MP said the proposed changes ‘will inevitably affect response times by their nature’. How can these changes create a more efficient service if fire engines and crews take longer to arrive?
A: It should be borne in mind that this is a service that needs to support two million people spread over two counties so reallocating our resources to have the most efficient effect is key. The changes may also improve response times in some areas by ensuring more on-call fire appliances are available and by the introduction of roving appliances, should that option be approved.
Q: What would you say to the public to reassure them, if anything, in response to the chief fire officer’s comment over response times?
A: We will continue to respond as quickly as possible to incidents and we believe these proposals will improve people’s safety across Devon and Somerset.
Q: DSFRS is now saying the changes proposed are not cash saving measures.
The fire service reportedly has £38.875million in strategic reserve, for new stations and kit. How can you justify the changes if they are not to save money when there are there is £38million in the bank specifically held for frontline firefighting? (The reserve stood at £200,000 when Devon combined with Somerset fire service).
A: Reserves are pots of money used to fund significant one-off items or projects. These might include vehicles, new buildings, technology and money for unexpected events.
It’s important to recognise that once reserves are spent, they are gone. If we spent them to prop up our day-to-day budget, we wouldn’t have any money to invest in the service.
Q: Please explain why and how Colyton’s fire station has been identified as a quiet station/low risk when the crew went out 81 times in 2018?
A: Excluding co-responder calls, Colyton attended 24 incidents within their station ground in 2018.
Q: www.eastdevonnews.co.uk understands DSFRS employed an extra 30 managers in the last 12 months, earning between £50,000 and £150,000. Why hasn’t DSFRS included an option to streamline office staff as part of the consultation?
A: In terms of reducing support staff costs, this was planned as Phase 3 of our Service Delivery programme, the current proposals are Phase 2. Once we have gathered feedback through the consultation, developed proposals reflecting that feedback for review by the Fire Authority, and following any decisions made, carrying out implementation planning and early implementation stages of the new operating model, we will then start on Phase 3.
The reason for ordering in this way is that it is only at that stage we will have a complete picture of what size and form of support staff we will need to support our new service provision going forward.
- There are two days left to read the consultation document and complete the questionnaire before Sunday’s (September 22) deadline.
Having trouble filling in the Safer Together consultation questionnaire? Terry Elliott made this short video to help.