North Yorkshire firefighters have expressed concerns to a raft of proposed cuts to the fire and rescue service that will put public safety at greater risk.
The Chief Fire Officer’s proposals released for consultation by North Yorkshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC) Zoe Metcalfe include changing Huntington fire station from full-time cover to part-time cover, cutting the second fire engine from nighttime cover at Harrogate and Scarborough fire stations, and significantly cutting attendance to automatic fire alarm call-outs.
Other key proposals set out in the plan include:
- Removing the need to always use blue lights to automatic fire alarm responses at premises where people don’t sleep, and not responding to these alarms for two extra hours per day.
- Halting monitoring of responses relative to a publicly stated target time, and instead implementing monitoring relative to “response principles”.
The Chief Fire Officer, supported by the Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner has said that the changes are a result of modelling data, and gives and gives an opportunity to improve the service.
A public consultation was launched on Monday 23 May to gather the community’s views on the proposals.
The Union is urging firefighters and the public to have their say, and make their concerns heard over the impact the plans will have on emergency fire cover across the region.
North Yorkshire Fire Brigades Union Brigade Secretary Steve Howley said:
Firefighters urge that the public reject these proposals and call on people to visit the PFCC’s website to strongly oppose all cuts to emergency response. The PFCC needs to fight for the correct funding from government, not simply mask underfunding by slashing services and providing the public of North Yorkshire with a second-rate emergency response service that will put lives at risk.
North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service (NYFRS) has been promising these IRMP proposals for the past 2 years, and time after time we have been given delays and excuses.
For a Chief Fire Officer to table cuts of this magnitude to emergency fire response in York, Harrogate and Scarborough just weeks before retiring is quite frankly appalling.
We need Zoe Metcalfe to stand up for her communities and reject these proposals rather than put their safety at risk.
Regarding the proposal to Cut the 24-hour fire engine from Huntington Fire Station on the A1237 to the North West of the City of York Steve Howley said:
Cutting emergency fire cover in York will significantly increase the time in which the fire service can get the first and second fire engine to a fire or other emergency. The government’s own modeling shows that your chances of survival falls exponentially as attendance times increase (*See Note 8). The people of York deserve better.
A recent government inspection of NYFRS was critical of the fact they do not publish a response time standard. It stated that ‘…the public doesn’t know what level of service to expect. Response times have increased since 2010’ (see Note 1).
Firefighters are quite frankly shocked that the service are not only still failing to declare a response time standard but proposing to increase response times further in the City of York. Year on year council tax goes up, yet the fire service is cut and response times to emergencies increase. For a service which claims to have a balanced medium-term budget (see note 7) this makes no sense and it’s time the public of North Yorkshire are treated better.
Regarding the proposal to cut night time cover from Harrogate and Scarborough fire stations second fire appliance Steve Howley said:
NYFRS are replacing one botched cut with another, removing the contentious Tactical Response Vehicles which are crewed with too few firefighters to affect a rescue from a house fire, but replacing them with a full-sized fire engine only crewed half of the time.
Although given quantities of emergency calls fall during certain time periods, Home Office statistics show that serious emergencies which require the most resources remain constant during the time period these cuts are proposed. (see Note 4)
Under this plan the remaining crews at Scarborough and Harrogate will be waiting for part-time staff to travel from their home address to their local fire stations in Sherburn, Filey, Robbin Hoods Bay, Knaresborough, Summerbridge, and Ripon, then travel to the emergencies in Harrogate and Scarborough. Firefighters see this as an unacceptable delay to life-saving intervention at the most serious incidents.
Regarding the proposals on Automatic Fire Alarms:
NYFRS attend less false alarms than the national average, highlighting the need to maintain a high level of response to automatic alarms.
Fire and rescue services have a statutory duty to preserve lives and protect property (see Note 6), and the proposals on Automatic Fire Alarms pose additional danger on both those fronts. We could have a situation where one firefighter in a car is being sent out to respond to fire alarms. That is, in our view, obviously not good enough.
In conclusion, Steve Howley said:
NYFRS’s own analysis shows that the areas of ‘High’ and ‘Very High’ risk are concentrated in the very areas subject to the proposed cuts. (Note 3) A decade of under investment in the Fire and Rescue Service has dovetailed with an increase in response times both locally and nationally. (Note 1 and Note 5).
Further cuts to emergency response in the county is not the answer, particularly when NYFRS claims to have a balanced medium-term budget. (Note 7) Council tax has increased by either the maximum or 0.01% shy of the maximum permissible amount year-on-year since 2010, yet NYFRS continually proposes to cut operational staff and slow response times to areas of the county most at risk.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) report into NYFRS states:
“The service does not publish a standard response time, so the public doesn’t know what level of service to expect. Response times have increased since 2010.”
According to the Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabularies and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) key facts:
- NYFRS attends less false alarms per 1000 people than the national average.
- NYFRS serves an area of 3209 square miles, the largest geographical area of any English Fire and Rescue Service.
- North Yorkshires Population has risen by 2%
- NYFRS Firefighter numbers has fallen by 2%
- NYFRS Fire False alarms per 1000 of population is below the national average
NYFRS community risk profile combined risk for North Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service area identifies that ‘high’ and ‘very high’ risks are concentrated in York, Harrogate and Scarbrough. (see attached image / link)
Home Office Analysis states:
‘Fires and fire-related fatalities are affected by both seasonality and time of day. Similar to previous years, there were generally fewer fires where the time of call was between midnight and 11am, but the number of fire-related fatalities remained relatively high despite lower incidence of fires and with no strong temporal pattern. This difference is also found for accidental dwelling fires.’
‘In contrast to the number of fires, the hourly number of fire-related fatalities showed less of a pattern across the day in 2018/19, as in previous years. Fire-related fatalities were roughly equal between day and night hours.
FBU article regarding slowing response times linking to Home Office Data
The Fire Services Act states
‘7 Fire-fighting (1) A fire and rescue authority must make provision for the purpose of— (a) extinguishing fires in its area, and (b) protecting life and property in the event of fires in its area.’
NYFRS claim to have a balanced medium term financial plan
‘Significant progress has been made in stabilising the finances of the Fire Service over the last couple of years which resulted in returning the Medium Term Financial Plan (MTFP) to balance when the 2020/21 budget was agreed. This more robust financial position will continue to be vital over the coming years as the financial impacts that are likely from Covid-19 become more apparent.
In terms of the 2020/21 financial year the final Outturn for the Fire Service is an underspend of £1,298k, this is after planned/necessary transfers to reserves of £1,756k.’
See attached Communities and Local Government FSEC (CLG) Fire Service Emergency Cover Toolkit document and associated FBU briefing note.