Firefighters slam £1.6m cuts to the service

The Petworth barn fire SUS-140923-135440001
The Petworth barn fire SUS-140923-135440001

FIREFIGHTERS and engines are set to be lost from stations across the Observer area, leaving Midhurst and Petworth reeling from cuts.

With Chichester and Bognor fire stations both loosing three firefighters and Midhurst and Petworth each set to lose an engine, fears have been raised over safety.

Former Midhurst firefighter Dave West believes the service is ‘playing dangerous games’.

“From my experience as a firefighter for 29 years I think they are playing dangerous games in reducing appliances north of the Downs,” he said.

“One of the risks will be an increase of time it takes the second appliance to reach an incident. That can’t be good.

I think the service is making this decision on statistics and statistics can be manipulated in many ways. The decision is not a wise one and smacks purely of senior staff gambling with numbers and statistics. Midhurst has the largest fire ground in the county, I think Chichester is next largest and after 
that Petworth, so you have quite a big fire ground in a rural area.

“There has been no give and take before these decisions were made and I don’t think they listened to people with knowledge and understanding of how the service works.”

The drastic changes, which will take place over the next 12 months, were announced on Monday as part of a West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (WSRFS)bid to cut £1.6m.

MIDHURST and Petworth stations will now have one engine and one 4x4 vehicle, resulting in a saving of around £44,000.

There will also be a reduction of nine retained firefighters from Crawley and 28 whole-time firefighters from stations at Chichester, Bognor Regis, Crawley, Horsham, Littlehampton and Worthing. There will be three fewer firefighters at each station.

WSRFS claims this reduction will result in savings of £420,000.

A public consultation ending on August 23 received about 1,000 responses from the public, businesses and local authorities.

However, some have 
also criticised the timing of the 12-week public consultation – which ran through the school holidays.

Some £220,000 is set to be invested in flood defence, with monies going to specialist equipment and training.

There are currently 40 fire engines across the county, which will reduce to 35.

But, said deputy chief fire officer Lee Neale, the average the service currently operates during the day is 24.

For the full story, including details on where and how the cuts will be made, see this week’s Observer (September 25).