Fury over proposed cuts to fire cuts

Firefighters have reacted with fury at new plans to downgrade coverage of a rescue vehicle that covers Fenland to daytime only.

The plans, which will be put to the fire authority on 11 February, include the closure of Swaffham Bullbeck fire station and the downgrading of the Huntingdon rescue vehicle to day time cover only.

The Fire Brigades Union has called the plans “disgraceful” and have pledged to mount a “vigorous campaign of opposition” if councillors agree to pursue them.

The plans involve downgrading the rescue vehicle at Huntingdon fire station from its current 24 hour availability to ‘day cover’ only. This means that the appliance, which specialises in rescuing members of the public involved in road traffic collisions and is regularly called out to the Fenland area, could only be guaranteed available during office hours, Monday to Friday.

Cameron Matthews, Cambridgeshire FBU secretary said: “These cuts will seriously affect emergency cover in Cambridgeshire and we believe will compromise both public and firefighter safety.

“The rescue vehicle at Huntingdon fire station is an essential resource which provides specialist back up and support at road traffic collisions, floodings and other types of emergencies. It is a vital emergency vehicle, which is used in the most dangerous and difficult instances, and the plans to downgrade to ‘day cover’ only are disgraceful.”

The union will be campaigning for the removal of these plans at the fire authority meeting scheduled for 2pm on 11 February. The FBU has informed politicians of the substantial sacrifices already made by Cambridgeshire firefighters and told them that these further cuts are a “step too far”.

Kerry Baigent, Cambridgeshire FBU organiser said: “Only a few weeks ago firefighters in Cambridgeshire were put onto a revised duty system which means extra working hours, less time off and substantial disruption to our family lives. When this was introduced we were told that it would prevent any further cuts in the service but now we see that this is untrue. FBU members feel they have been stabbed in the back and misled by senior managers who have reneged on their promises less than two weeks after the new system was introduced.”

Chris Strickland, deputy chief fire officer for Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: “Our proposals are about improving our ability to deliver a service, not about cuts. If approved by the fire authority, we’re not looking to save any money by implementing these changes. Instead we’re ensuring that the Service is providing the best service possible to taxpayers.

“Over the past three years we’ve saved more than £4 million from our budget. Now it’s time to take stock and start looking for ways to continue improving the service we provide.

“Combining Burwell and Swaffham fire stations makes sense. They are less than three miles apart and historically (in the 50 plus years since the fire stations have been open) we have never been able to fully crew the fire engine located at Swaffham Bulbeck. One site is a former listed pub and the other is a brick built garage which the fire engine sits in. It’s always been the intention of the service to combine the sites at some stage to build a new purpose built fire station with a bespoke training facility for crews. Now, we’ve been offered some land to do this and this is a great opportunity for us to improve the quaility of service we provide to the area.

“As part of a package of improvements we are putting six new rescue pumps into service and as a result we have an opportunity to change the way we crew the rescue vehicle at Huntingdon to enable us to improve the availability of our on-call stations. We’re not getting rid of the rescue vehicle in the evenings, we’re just proposing that we change how we crew it.”