Almost 90 per cent of on-call firefighters who are union members signed a letter opposing the decision by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue to cut their numbers to three per crew when attending incidents. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) will make their opposition clear tomorrow (Wednesday) by staging a protest outside New Shire Hall, Alconbury, ahead of a meeting of the overview and scrutiny committee of Cambridgeshire Fire Authority.
“Since January 1st, 2023, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service (CFRS) has cut the number of on-call firefighters attending incidents in Cambridgeshire to three per crew,” said a union spokesperson.
“A minimum number of five firefighters are recommended to respond to incidents where lives are at risk.”
The fire authority, however, was told in June of “operational excellence activities including crews of three, providing 1,000 additional hours of fire cover each month”.
At the same meeting, fire authority members were told that performance against the Integrated Risk Management Plan (IRMP) performance measures for 2022/23, which included five year rolling figures, showed average attendance in urban areas “was well within the nine-minute target, at 7 minutes 39 seconds.
“Rural response times slightly exceeded the 12-minute target at 12 minutes 18 seconds, due to summer spate conditions”.
The service was slightly below the 95% target for responding to all incidents within 18 minutes, at 94.6% but again this was attributed to “the summer spate conditions; there had been a significant increase in the number of fires in 2022/23, again due to the summer spate in July and August 2022.
“Similarly primary, secondary and nondomestic fires had all increased”.
But the FBU is adamant that lower crew levels are no answer to what Cambridgeshire needs.
“A crew of three firefighters in an appliance (fire engine) means there is one driver, one officer overseeing operations, and one crew member,” said a union spokesperson.
“Firefighters are trained as crews of four or five, with roles assigned within these larger teams.
“CFRS argues that smaller crews will mean that fire engines arrive at incidents ‘several minutes faster’. However, there is no evidence that this reduces response times since a crew of three must wait for additional crews to arrive to tackle a serious incident.”
Mark Harriss, FBU Cambridgeshire brigade secretary said: “Every second counts in an emergency, and fires can escalate quickly.
“Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service is putting lives at risk by sending out crews who are unable to rescue people safely. If your house is on fire, you expect a fire engine to be able to help. You don’t expect three firefighters to arrive and wait for back-up.”
“The service is cutting our crews because we’re facing a crisis in recruitment and retention. Making the job far more dangerous and stressful will only make this worse. Fire service employers must put a stop to this dangerous practice and staff our service properly.”
Callum Hodgkin, FBU Cambridgeshire brigade organiser: “Firefighters sign up to protect people’s homes and save lives, not to watch buildings burn.
“Fires can change quickly, so you never know what an incident is like until you arrive at the scene. With a crew of three, you aren’t equipped to safely tackle a serious incident like a house fire. You must wait for another crew to arrive.
“Firefighters in these crews face an impossible choice: wait outside a burning house or risk their jobs and lives by going in.
“We are proud to serve our communities and feel a moral duty to save lives. Sooner or later, this policy will end in tragedy. No firefighter should ever be put in this position.”
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