Midhurst and Petworth slam fire cuts

Midhurst firefighters on a drill Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140219-4 SUS-140218-131550001
Midhurst firefighters on a drill Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140219-4 SUS-140218-131550001

SWINGEING cuts to the fire service ‘will put lives at risk.’

Now Midhurst residents say they will stand by their firefighters.

West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is looking to save £1.6m over the next year and says losing a fire engine in Midhurst would amount to £22,000 towards that figure.

A fire drill Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140219-14 SUS-140218-131738001

A fire drill Picture by Kate Shemilt.C140219-14 SUS-140218-131738001

It has saved £4m over the past four years in line with county council budget reductions, but Midhurst firefighters fear the consequences of the loss of their second appliance.

Resident Dave West is a retired firefighter of 29 years and said: “Statistics are a wonderful thing, but can produce anything if you turn them around in the right way.

“Midhurst has the biggest fire ground in the county, and we are the most remote.

“It is easy to take an appliance away, but it is hard to get one back.

“It took us a long time to get a second engine.

“I wonder whether the retained are an easy target.”

Proposals do not include station closures or a change in the number of firefighters, but the loss of one fire engine at both Midhurst and Petworth. At present, both have two standard engines and one 4x4 vehicle.

Addressing Midhurst Town Council on Monday (June 16) was deputy chief fire officer Lee Neale.

“We are of the view that prevention is better than cure. I’m not here to sell the cuts or defend them,” he told councillors.

“I have been a fire officer for 30 years. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I was putting the public or firefighters at risk.”

He said cuts could equate to three additional fire deaths per 100 years, which was ‘still too much’, and £80,000 worth of property damage.

The service considers Midhurst a ‘low-risk’ fire area. However, councillor Margaret Guest said: “Midhurst may be low-risk, but what about road traffic accidents?”

Cllr Colin Hughes added: “We must have needed two fire engines in the first place. We did need two, and now we don’t?

“I can see firefighters riding to incidents on their bicycles. It isn’t satisfactory.”

Lee responded: “I will resign if we get to that. I’m never going to convince you that taking away a fire engine is a good thing.

“But firefighters are welcome to have an opinion, and it all gets fed back into this consultation exercise.”

Cllr Hughes praised the work of crews and said the council would stick by them.

He added: “We count ourselves extremely fortunate to have crews who work hard and put themselves at risk. We would be completely supportive of you.

“I am against the removal of the second appliance and I think the council should say just that.”

For the full story see this week’s Observer (June 19).