Midhurst and Petworth fire stations safe from axe

Fire stations at Midhurst and Petworth have been declared strategically important and will be retained while other areas face sweeping changes in a West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service shake-up.

The changes, which could see reductions in the service's budget and staffing levels as well as some fire station closures – including Bosham – have been unveiled for consultation.

But county fire officer Max Hood said this week that across the whole of the county the proposals would improve firefighters' ability to meet attendance standards, if they were approved.

Midhurst and Petworth both operate the retained system, meaning none of their firefighters is full-time.

At Petworth, there is to be a pilot project to improve crewing arrangements and increase availability among the 18 part-timers.

Fire service press officer Gary Towson said there had been some problems in ensuring enough crew were available during the day to respond to call-outs.

"We are trying to look at a new contract which will pay them a bit more in return for guaranteeing their availability for a certain number of hours," Mr Towson said.

"We will run the pilot project for about a year at Petworth and if it is successful, it might be run out to other stations.

"Midhurst and Petworth are strategically-important stations because they cover a large area north of the Downs."

The overall 'fire redesign' is said to be aimed at updating the service and giving it the right resources to make sure West Sussex is a safer place.

Savings of 1.2m on a budget of about 36m are proposed – on top of 300,000 'efficiency savings' already identified – together with the removal of 66 posts.

Redundancy is not being ruled out, but Mr Hood said it was the 'very last backstop.'

A 12-week consultation period is now proposed, starting on July 19. A final decision is due in November, and implementation will be in 2011, if the scheme is approved.

Under the proposals, Burgess Hill and Littlehampton retained fire stations will be upgraded, with full-time firefighters on duty at certain times.

Closure of three retained stations, staffed by part-timers, is recommended – at Bosham, Findon and Keymer. Mr Hood said these all had a very low number of emergency calls.

A new fire station was planned for Broadbridge Heath, Horsham, which would also include a new fire and rescue service training centre.

Mr Hood said training facilities needed significantly updating to improve firefighter safety and make them even more effective.