Vote of no confidence in East Sussex fire service leadership

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service
West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service

A union has unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in the senior leadership team of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS).

East Sussex Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said its members have continually raised concerns over ESFRS senior leadership’s plans to implement changes that ‘seek to reduce both public and firefighter safety’.

The FBU said its decision came after ‘the senior leadership team recently agreed to introduce small appliances, which carry less life-saving equipment’.

But ESFRS said it is ‘strongly rejecting claims that public or firefighter safety is being put at risk by new proposals’.

In response, the service said the union has ‘fundamentally misunderstood the current discussions over smaller fire appliances and has pre-emptively issued this notice without fully engaging with senior management’.

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What the union says

Mark Brown, FBU secretary, said: “This is an ill-conceived plan that has not been properly thought-through. We have repeatedly raised concerns with senior leadership over many months, unfortunately rather than listen to the FBU, our safety reps and our members, they have instead chosen to agree a plan that will reduce the service’s ability to deal with emergencies effectively.

“The senior leadership team need to assess the risk posed to the public, before contemplating any plans that seek to reduce fire cover and/or reduce equipment available to frontline staff.”

Fire service response

John Barnes, chairman of the East Sussex Fire Authority expressed ‘disappointment that the FBU have departed from the normal procedures and have not liaised with the Fire Authority’.

A spokesperson for the service said: “East Sussex Fire Authority first agreed that the service should look into the use of smaller appliances in 2014 as part of its “Integrated Risk Management Action Plan”, stating it would investigate the introduction of smaller appliances, where appropriate, with the correct personnel and equipment to manage certain incidents across the service.

“A decision has now been made in principle that there should be three main types of fire appliances in the future, based on an assessment of the risks within the community. In making this decision, it considered a range of information including the number and type of incidents attended and predicted in the future, and what equipment would be needed. It also considered learning from other fire and rescue services which have made similar changes.

“Any proposal to change equipment or appliances will go through a transparent full consultation with staff and the representative bodies in the normal way.

The new fire appliances will be designed to better manage contaminated Breathing Apparatus, Personal Protective Equipment and other operational equipment, therefore enhancing firefighter safety.

“No appliances have been ordered, neither have designs been finalised, nor potential locations for deployment confirmed.”

Staff survey

The union also said a staff survey in June showed that 13 per cent of firefighters in East Sussex had confidence in the principal officers leading ESFRS, and that ‘since then the leadership team have failed to take on board the findings and have instead agreed plans and changes that further reduce confidence in them’.

Mr Brown said: “This apparent lack of learning has left the FBU membership in East Sussex with no option other than to pass a ‘vote of no confidence’.

“Despite the ‘vote of no confidence’ the FBU remain committed to working with management to find solutions that enable ESFRS to provide a safe and efficient service for its staff and the public.”

But the fire service hit back, with a statement saying: “ESFRS carried out a staff survey in the summer to ensure that employees had a voice at a time of change for the service. The Senior Leadership Team is committed to being open and transparent and therefore released these results in full. It has in place a series of further events to fully understand the reasons behind some of the headline figures.”