Today was Surrey County Council’s Full Council meeting.
I raised my serious concerns about fire service cover for Haslemere – particularly at night. In the meeting council voted against the 13.000 petition to scrap the cuts to the fire service. This means loss of 7 night time pumps, and reliance on part time, on-call staff overnight. Already Haslemere fire station is currently regularly unmanned due to lack of staff. We are a high priority station as nearest to the A3 and the Hindhead tunnel.
This was my question on this matter:
The recently issued Making Surrey Safer Plan purports to “make sure we have the right resources in the right places at the right time to respond when you need us”
Haslemere fire station is a high priority station due to its proximity to the Hindhead Tunnel on the A3 and it’s distance from neighbouring stations. Due to a lack of supervisory managers at Haslemere’s on call unit, wholetime appliances have had to be moved to Haslemere to provide cover over night.
When there have been insufficient wholetime fire appliances available retained/on call appliances have been moved to Haslemere to cover the shortfall.
During August this resulted in “Standby” appliances being moved from their base station elsewhere in the county to Haslemere to provide night cover twenty times.
On occasion, when there have been insufficient resources, the Haslemere area has been abandoned without cover for a period of 24 hours.
At present the Fire Service is struggling to maintain cover at night. This situation will be exacerbated by the cutting of a further 7 appliances at night.
The new Making Surrey Safer Plan
– slashes the night time cover throughout the county, potentially leaving Haslemere exposed,
– increases dependency on an already over-stretched pool of part-time fire fighters, and
– relies on crews backing each other up over long distances at risk to the base station’s primary response area.
The Plan therefore increases rather than reduces the risk to my constituents’ safety and fails to ensure the right resources will be in the right place at the right time to respond to residents’ needs in emergency. Far from driving the improvements called for by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate last year, Surrey’s Plan is a roadmap for deterioration in our fire service.
QUESTION 1: Would the leader please explain how, if the plan is implemented in its current form, I can reassure my constituents that they will be safe in their beds at night if the reduction of seven night time appliances across Surrey leaves insufficient resources when 24 hour fire cover at Haslemere cannot currently be guaranteed?
QUESTION 2: Due to the nature of the on-call system, fire crew availability can never be guaranteed. Staff are already struggling with the extra demands on their time covering the shortfalls. Do you believe the heavy reliance on retained/on call stations is sustainable once there is a further reduction of seven appliances at night?
This is the response I received here:
1. Surrey Fire and Rescue Service has robust plans in place to ensure it can always deal with emergencies effectively and continually monitors all of its vehicles around the county, using the very latest technology, so that firefighters and equipment are in the right place at the right time. There have been occasions recently at Haslemere when cover has been moved in from other fire stations at night. This has been due to short-notice leavers at Watch Officer level. It is normal practice for the service to move crews and resources around the county based on a dynamic analysis of risk. Just before each shift, highly trained and experienced 999 Mobilising staff work with Duty Officers to assess crewing levels and deploy staff accordingly. The Making Surrey Safer Plan for 2020 – 2023 was approved by Cabinet on 24 September 2019. Under these changes, fire and rescue cover will continue to be provided across Surrey on a 24/7 basis. Fire engines may come from neighbouring fire stations in some areas at night-time, but these will still arrive within the service’s current response standard. The Making Surrey Safer Plan is focussed on re-aligning Surrey’s fire and rescue service in order to put more resources into community and business safety activities, to reduce the likelihood of emergencies happening in the first place. In terms of the Waverley area specifically, the impact on response times is minimal and in fact improves at the weekend under the Making Surrey Safer Plan and overall:
Ø Weekday – no change to arrival of the first appliance to a critical incident
Ø Weekend day – 32 seconds quicker arrival of the first appliance to a critical incident
Ø Night – 10 second slower arrival of the first appliance to a critical incident Page 14
Ø Overall, at all times of day, the arrival of the first appliance to a critical incident will be 1 second quicker These meet the risk assessment which shows that weekend days are the busiest, night times are less busy, and week days remain the same.
The service will regularly review its Community Risk Profile and distribution of resources as population numbers and distribution changes over time to ensure adequate resources are provided. Once implemented from April 2020, the changes will be closely monitored by the service and a dedicated task group which will report back to Surrey County Council’s Communities, Environment and Highways Select Committee for appropriate scrutiny.
2. There is no guarantee of the availability of either whole time or on-call staff unfortunately however the Making Surrey Safer Plan for 2020 – 2023 increases the potential use of on On-Call staff and appliances at night. Two On-Call new starter courses will take place in the lead up to 1 April 2020 (when the changes will start to be implemented), to increase our number of on-call firefighters.