‘Lives are at risk’ in cuts to fire services

PLANNED cuts to the fire service will put peoples lives at risk, according to local union bosses.

Earlier this month it was confirmed that call centre staff would be moved from the Upperton Road HQ to a new site in Haywards Heath at a cost of an expected 20 jobs amid a major shake-up of the way the fire service operates in Sussex.

And East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) this week admitted that it had no choice but to wield the axe further in a bid to make around £2million of savings over the next four years.

The changes will be introduced before March next year and although the total number of job losses has yet to be confirmed, ESFRS says it is confident it can avoid compulsory redundancies.

Des Prichard, ESFRS’s chief executive, said that prudent planning had helped reduce the number of cutbacks the authority would have to make after seeing its hand forced by a smaller than usual government grant and a freeze in council tax payments.

He said that the difficult decision to reduce staffing levels had been taken back on June 7, saying ESFRS had been left with “no option other than to reduce a number of posts by March 31, 2013, to fulfil the savings required.”

He also promised the fire service would “do all it can to support staff directly affected by any changes” and that bosses hoped to keep redundancies to “an absolute minimum.”

Public safety, he added would not be compromised.

However, If Mr Prichard’s comments were designed to calm fears over the impact the cuts would have on frontline services, they did little to reassure locals representatives from the Fire Brigade Union (FBU).

Simon Herbert, the union’s East Sussex chairman, said, “Any further cuts to the already reduced establishment will put public lives at risk.

“The public need to know that by cutting firefighter jobs, having fewer fire engines available and other cuts will delay intervention.”

He then warned, “The most vulnerable in our society including the elderly, children and lowest paid will be put at the greatest risk if these cuts go ahead.

“Deaths caused by fire within East Sussex have sharply risen over the last year and any further cuts, in the opinion of the FBU, will lead to even more deaths.”