Cuts to the fire service in East Sussex will put Bexhill lives at risk – a union official has warned.
Controversial plans by East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) to remove 20 firefighters jobs from neighbouring Hastings and a further nine posts from nearby Battle would put additional pressure on Bexhill crews.
That is according to Mark Brown, secretary of the East Sussex branch of the Fire Brigade Union who believes any large-scale reduction in the number of fire engines, firefighters and blaze-battling appliances should be resisted.
ESFRS maintains it is not compromising public safety in its efforts to earmark around £7million in savings.
But Mr Brown, speaking to The Observer earlier this week, said he hoped the authority would reconsider the cutbacks.
He said: ““These proposals mean the public waiting longer for a fire engine when they need one, whether because of fire, flooding or to be cut from a road traffic collision.
“Attendance times have already risen over the last few years, and any further increases are not acceptable to firefighters or the public.
“There is definitely the potential for it to impact on people in Bexhill. If there is a large fire in either of these areas it could be that the Bexhill appliance is called over to help. What happens then if there is a fire in Bexhill?
“Equally, if there is a large fire in Bexhill which needs extra support, the response time will be a lot longer because help may have to come from further away. Having fewer appliances in some areas will have an effect across the entire county.”
A spokesman for ESFRS attempted to reassure local residents ahead of a county-wide consultation on the plans which got underway earlier this week. An ESFRS statement said: “The service has to meet the twin challenges of changing needs within the community and reductions in its funding.
“The number of incidents has fallen over the years as prevention work continues to reduce the risks of fires and other emergencies.
“Meanwhile funding has been reduced due to cuts in Government grants and pressures to keep council tax levels low.”
And chief fire officer Des Prichard said any losses would not affect the services remit to get “eight firefighters to 60 per cent of calls within eight minutes.” Mr Prichard added: “We have a plan to look at all our costs. The reality in a single service organisation most of our costs are on our staff.”
The proposals relate to both retained and wholetime positions, with ESFRS currently employing 412 wholetime firefighters and 235 retained firefighters.
Mr Brown was unconvinced by ESFRS argument. He said reducing the number of appliances and firefighters “would put lives at risk,” and encouraged concerned locals to take part in the consultation and voice their opposition to the plans.For full details of the proposals visit www.esfrs.org/news/.