East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS) is considering changes to the way it provides cover across its area, including Uckfield.
It is working up what it calls a “new, integrated risk management plan” called Planning for a Safer Future”.
It looks at the risks of emergencies, such as fires, and examines how best resources can be used to prevent emergencies and respond to them.
“We already know we will have to be innovative in order to do this now and in the future,” ESFRS says on its website.
East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service covers the administrative county of East Sussex and the City of Brighton and Hove.
An integrated risk management plan hardly sounds exciting and nothing to get worried about.
The devil will, however, be in the detail.
Balancing risks with resources could mean all sorts of things but Uckfield should rightly ask: What does this mean for our town – in terms of equipment, personnel and firefighting capabilities?
Can we have a guarantee that “Planning for a Safer Future” is not a Trojan horse containing less equipment and fewer personnel for Uckfield?
People in Uckfield need to ask some pertinent questions of East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service once this plan is drawn up.
Here are questions to which we need clear, detailed and precise answers.
Towards the end of this article we publish what Uckfield Fire Station has in terms of machines and personnel at the moment.
This is to establish a baseline for our readers so that they compare what is eventually proposed with what we have now.
Question 1: Uckfield has two fire engines (as the public would describe them). Will there still be two in future?
Question 2: How will Uckfield be crewed in the future?
Question 3: How many full-time firefighters will be based at Uckfield?
Question 4: Will the full-time firefighters be available “on call” when they are off-shift and at home?
Question 5: For night-time and weekend coverage, do you intend to be completely reliant on the retained (on call) firefighters, without any full-time staff covering at night?
Question 6: If you rely on the on call firefighters to cover nights/weekends, how can you guarantee that Uckfield Fire Station will have sufficient crew members to attends fires, crashes and incidents?
Question 7: You have advertised in recent times for on call firefighters, do you have a full complement at Uckfield, bearing in mind nationally it has been difficult to recruit sufficient retained firefighters?
Question 8: If there are insufficient firefighters to turn out one fire appliance from Uckfield, where would an appliance come from and how long would that take?
Question 9: How will you ensure any proposals make firefighting and fire safety more resilient in Uckfield?
Uckfield Fire Station Baseline
There are four appliances based at Uckfield Fire Station. They are:
Appliance 1: An Extended Rescue Pump. This is a standard fire appliance but carries additional equipment for a wide range of incidents, including cutting equipment for road accidents and water rescue equipment). It also has a positive pressure fan for smoke clearance and a full range of service ladders.
This appliance used to be crewed by up to six firefighters but following the last round of cuts this was reduced to a maximum of five and is now regularly crewed by just four firefighters. In East Sussex this is the minimum number permissible to form a crew.
Appliance 2: A Water Tender. This is a standard fire appliance which carries basic firefighting equipment and a range of hand tools. It also carries a Light Portable Pump (LPP) which is often essential for pumping from open water at rural fires. It carries a limited range of service ladders.
Crewing is the same as Appliance 1.
Appliance 3: Water Carrier (Bowser). This vehicle is a tanker with a capacity of 12,000 litres. It can be deposited in what the fire service calls “dams” at incidents which are then constantly replenished by the vehicle making refill runs.
It is crewed by two firefighters and is located in the north of the county due to the fire risk on Ashdown Forest but covers the entire county as required.
Appliance 4: A Dual Purpose Truck – general purposes vehicle. This is a flat-bed lorry with a crane facility. It operates as a support vehicle to the water carrier by providing extra personnel to set up “dams” and then to secure a water supply for the carrier to refill.
It is used to collect dams and ancillary equipment from incidents which may have been left in situ.
Uckfield Fire Station Personnel
We believe Uckfield has a “day crewed” duty system which guarantees that one fire appliance is guaranteed for immediate response between 8.30am and 6.30pm. This is crewed by full-time personnel who are also available on call from home during the night, which means Uckfield has at least one appliance 24/7.
There is an establishment of 12 full-timers, split into two ‘watches’ of six, working four days on, four days off rota.
Uckfield, like the majority of East Sussex fire stations, employs ‘on call’ firefighters, sometimes known as retained. These men and women have jobs outside the fire service and respond to emergencies when called if available.
Some smaller fire stations, particularly in villages, only have an on call crew.
As mentioned previously, ESFRS and fire services generally, have found it difficult to recruit and retain on call firefighters.
Some Uckfield Fire Station facts and figures
- Uckfield has the second largest fire-ground in the whole of ESFR at 130sq km (50 sq miles).
- Incidents have decreased by 39% since 2009, although for the last three years they have been rising slightly.
- There are, on average, 226 incidents per year within Uckfield station area – the fourth
busiest day-crewed area. Of those 58% are during the day. (260 if using the 2009 date as above)
- The primary pumping appliance at Uckfield (84P1) is mobilised to an incident, on average, 332 times per year and on 62% of occasions, this is to its own station area. (38% supporting other stations or FRS)
- There are proportionally more road crashes in area.
- 19 critical life-risk incidents per year. Upward trend.
- Uckfield appliances made 427 standby moves between April 2009 and March 2018, accounting for 4.2% of all standby moves for ESFRS. The number of standbys is 3 times higher in 2017/18 compared to 2009/10.
- Attendance times, on average, are slightly longer than other day-crewed station areas.
74% of incidents are attended by a single appliance.
There are many questions that need answers. ESFRS needs to be clear about its plans. People need to be told the details.
And, while they are at it, don’t hold public meetings out at the Maresfield training centre, as has been done in the past. Public meetings should be in the centre of Uckfield.
East Sussex Fire Authority will discuss the proposals at their meeting on Thursday, 23 April 2020 at 10.00 am, at the Council Chamber, Hove Town Hall, Norton Road, Hove BN3 3BQ. This billed an “extraordinary” meeting.