"There are difficult decisions that need to be made" - fire chief's warning as controversial service cuts plan put to public consultation

PUBLISHED: 15:44 28 June 2019 | UPDATED: 15:44 28 June 2019

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service HQ. Picture: Callum Lawton

Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service HQ. Picture: Callum Lawton

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Fire stations across Devon and Somerset could shut after a list of controversial options were put forward to public consultation.

At an emotionally-charged crunch meeting on Friday (June 28), members of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service Authority approved a consultation process which will see services streamlined.

Several options - which see the number of engines in use cut and fully-manned stations converted into part-time operations, will go out to communities as early as next week.

The plans were pushed through following a debate lasting more than three hours at the fire service's headquarters in Clyst St George.

The proposals are expected to go forward for a 12-week public consultation from July 1 to September 20.

Six options are on the table, all of which foresee station closures at Appledore, Ashburton, Budleigh Salterton, Colyton, Kingston, Porlock, Topsham and Woolacombe.

They are outlined in a public report, which was criticised by Jamie Leslie, secretary of the Fire Brigade Union. (HL)

Mr Leslie told members the proposals were not 'fit for purpose', called for the service to take a second look at them and to 'properly consult' with the union.

However, the authority voted through the consultation, despite an effort from North Devon councillor Frank Biederman to defer the decision to a future meeting (HL).

Cllr Beiderman's told the meeting the proposals would 'cost a life' and said the amount of detail in the document is difficult to digest.

He said: "The most important thing is our staff fully understand what we are trying to do and we understand what we are trying to get out of it."

Chief fire officer Lee Howell said: "We find ourselves in a situation where progressively, our ability to crew on-call fire engines is getting worse year on year.

"Some of the savings from the changes are already earmarked to reinvest more in on-call staff in terms of salaries."

Mr Howell said if the service is trying to improve what it offers, but said he recognised the proposals were controversial and had caused 'upset'.

He added: "The best way to save life and the best way to improve public safety is a focus on prevention.

"We want to improve public safety by investing in more prevention and prot4ection arrangement.

"At the same time we want to improve our emergency response arrangements. In doing that, there are difficult decisions that need to be made because we operate in the shrinking budget."

Once the consultation closes, a meeting will be held near the end of the year to determine what action is taken.

What are the options?

Option 1 - Station closures at Appledore, Ashburton, Budleigh Salterton, Colyton, Kingston, Porlock, Topsham and Woolacombe.

One appliance from Topsham will be relocated to Middlemoor.

Option 2 - Station closures and removal of third appliances - option 1 plus a move to remove four 'on call' fire engines, one from each station at Bridgwater, Taunton, Torquay and Yeovil - currently they all have three fire engines.

Option 3 - Station closures, removal of third and second appliances - option 2 plus a move to remove four engines, one from each station in Crediton, Lynton, Martock and Totnes - each one currently has two fire engines.

Option 4 - Station closures, removal of third and second appliances and change of status to day crewing - option 3 plus changing the staffing at three stations (Barnstaple, Exmouth and Paignton) - they currently all staffed 24/7. It's proposed the station will be staffed in the day but at night there will only be 'on call' staff.

Option 5 - Station closures, removal of third and second appliances, change of status to day crewing and to on-call at night only - option 4 and a number of stations have two engines - it is proposed that the first fire engine will be crewed 24/7 with 'on call' staff but the second fire engine is crewed at night. (This includes Brixham, Chard, Dartmouth, Frome, Honiton, Ilfracombe, Okehampton, Sidmouth, Tavistock, Teignmouth, Tiverton and Wellington).

Option 6 - Station closures, removal of third and second appliances, change of status to day crewing, on-call at night only and introduction of day crewed roving appliances. Option 5, plus proposals that six day-crewed fire engines (with trained firefighters on the fire engine) are introduced which will be deployed in areas of forecasted high risk and/or where gaps in 'on call' cover is presented.

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