Essex County Fire and Rescue Service plan to cut at least 179 full time firefighters working at frontline fire stations – more than a 25% reduction in the full time 999 fire and rescue response force immediately available to respond to 999 calls.
The same frontline firefighters play a vital dual-role. They carry-out the invaluable prevention work in their local communities and yet are still needed to respond to the thousands of 999 emergencies that still occur each year in Essex, Southend and Thurrock.
If the plans go through unchallenged, it will mean the public waiting longer for the first fire crew to arrive – more often with too few firefighters on board to immediately commence rescue operations – and then waiting longer for the next fire crews to come from further away. In an emergency, every second counts.
As a result of front line cuts already made ECFRS have been missing key targets on response times to emergencies. Now senior managers are calling for those targets to be ‘relaxed’.
Firefighters find themselves more often having to put their lives on the line when they know they should wait for the full rescue team to be in place. These cuts would inevitably put the safety of the public and firefighters at increased risk.
At the same time, following controversial staff cuts at the 999 control room centre, a new IT mobilising system, used to send fire appliances to emergencies and introduced at great cost, has crashed and is not expected to be back online until November at the earliest.
This means staff are using an old, out of date system and sometimes have had to resort to writing down information when taking fire calls with pencil and paper, then phone fire stations using a landline – therefore slowing down the emergency response.
Alan Chinn-Shaw, secretary of the FBU in Essex, said: “These are unprecedented cuts which would see more than a quarter of all Essex frontline firefighters axed.
“None of us want to take further strike action but the managers and politicians simply aren’t listening and remain wholly intransigent. There’s still time for them to negotiate meaningfully and for strike action to be avoided.
“We are committed to negotiations but service managers have shown no sign whatsoever of compromise and are still intent on imposing deeply unworkable conditions that will put firefighters and the public we serve at great risk.
“Managers at the fire and rescue service have known about the problems with the dispatching system for months now and yet the situation is still the same.
“Senior managers need to pull their heads out of the sand and start taking responsibility for the failing IT system which has caused control staff additional stress on top of a recently imposed unworkable shift system.”
Essex firefighters and 999 emergency control staff will strike on the weekend of 13 and 14 June having last taken industrial action in March.