FIREFIGHTERS from all over the country assembled in Westminster last Wednesday to lobby their MPs against further cuts in frontline services.
The cuts implemented so far to frontline services have already eroded the ability of fire and rescue services, to respond to emergencies.
The firefighters, organised by the Fire Brigades Union, told the MPs they have delivered the previous administration’s “modernisation agenda”.
Their reward has been cuts in the number of frontline firefighters to dangerously low levels, a pay freeze that amounts to a pay cut; and further attacks on pension rights and conditions of service.
They said that “modernisation” has produced a worse service and those senior Government officials and local politicians have misled the public.
Fire authorities are using a downward trend in dwelling fires and dwelling fire deaths to justify cuts in emergency response and are hiding increased response times from the public.
The firefighters explained that comprehensive research has established that quick response times matter and they believe there is a link to the record number of firefighter deaths suffered in the last five years and the year on year record insured fire losses.
FBU executive council member Jim Parrott said: “Over the last six years, the fire authorities in the south east have produced so called ‘integrated risk management plans’ that are nothing better than glossy promotion brochures.
“They have misled the public hiding cuts behind average response times and promoting a downward trend in dwelling fires and fire deaths as a fire service success. Our members demand an honest approach with standards that the public understand.
“Our members want a robust and rigorous approach to emergency planning that allows them to get on with their job as safely as possible”.
A large contingent of FBU members came from the North West of England, where regional fire chiefs are quoting the Government’s austerity measures to justify plans to cut frontline firefighter jobs.
Many of the proposals being hurriedly prepared will see corners being cut in standards of fire and rescue services and will mean those who dial 999 will have to wait longer for more thinly stretched fire crews to come to their rescue but will carry on paying the same for the service.
This will put the lives of the public and the safety of firefighters at increased risk. It will also increase the cost of fire losses, increasing insurance premiums, and could leave businesses unable to recover, further exacerbating the loss of jobs.
A national YouGov poll released in September shows the public oppose cuts to their fire and rescue service; 85 per cent of those polled oppose Government plans to cut funding in the fire and rescue service; 95 per cent of those asked thought that despite the economic crisis, we need to keep at least the same number, or employ even more firefighters and 95 per cent agreed that a rapid response to fires should be a high priority.”
Kevin Brown, FBU regional secretary said: “Plans are being drawn up to significantly change the front line fire and rescue service in every one of our brigades. The Government has said it will protect the front line of public services and lets face it, you don’t get much more front line than the emergency 999 service our members deliver.
“The reality is that over the past decade the number of firefighters has been squeezed whilst the bureaucracy has grown year on year and extremely top heavy corporate empires have been created to justify the high levels of pay enjoyed by a precious few.”
The North East region FBU was also well represented. Pete Wilcox, FBU regional secretary said: “Already, with our employers offering no pay rise this year, the Government’s two-year public pay freeze coming in next year and the potential for a three per cent hike in pension contributions announced last month by the Chancellor, firefighters are certainly paying a heavy price for the failure of speculating bankers.
“We know that social deprivation caused by recession goes hand in hand with increased risks of fire and we will not stand back whilst the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are compromised by these cuts.
“Cuts cost lives, it is as simple as that but it seems those who are in favour of these cuts are those least likely to need the fire and rescue service. We are calling on our local MPs and our fire chiefs to stand up for the fire service, to stand up for the public we serve and to stand up for the brave men and women who deliver our service on the frontline.”