Fire service cuts in Uckfield will have a dramatic effect.
This website has carried out a forensic examination, with the help of experts, into the proposals from East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service (ESFRS).
Our report and commentary is based on the documentation provided by the East Sussex fire authority with further context gained by reference to other sources.
Our conclusion is that these proposals could have a dramatic effect on:
- Firefighting provision in rural areas, including Uckfield; and
- The overall resilience of the service, turning attendance at emergencies into a lottery.
The wider picture in East Sussex
Uckfield would not be alone in losing fire engines and firefighters.
The fire authority proposals cut one fire appliance from each of seven stations and change the way they are crewed.
The proposals will have the potential to leave the towns of Uckfield, Crowborough, Lewes, Newhaven, Battle, Bexhill and Rye relying upon other fire stations to provide or assist with their emergency cover.
Fire stations at Heathfield, Wadhurst, and Seaford, could also see reduced capability if proposals to their crewing system go ahead, effectively cutting ten fire engines across the county from the current 36 to 26.
Heathfield, Wadhurst and Seaford have ’maxicab’ fire engines which carry double crew and are deemed to be two pump stations. These will be replaced by one standard fire engine for each.
Hastings is the only town in the county to potentially see any improved cover but even one of the two stations there may be downgraded and the crewing of a proposed additional fire engine will be ‘shared’ with the aerial ladder platform (high reach vehicle).
This shared crewing is also proposed for Eastbourne.
The service states that, “We want to improve our risk cover and resilience by resourcing, as far as practicable, 24/7 availability of some fire engines that have historically had limited availability”.
Our expert adviser says despite promises of on-call firefighter recruitment and a ‘flexible crewing pool’ to cover shortages, these proposals WILL extend attendance times and fail to guarantee an available fire engine during evenings and weekends anywhere in the county outside of Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings as on-call firefighter availability cannot be guaranteed.
“As far as practicable” appears to be the best ESFRS can offer in the future.
How does this affect Uckfield?
Uckfield currently has two fire engines.
One is crewed during the daytime by full-time firefighters, seven days per week.
These firefighters are required to live in the town and to be on call during the nights of their working days to guarantee sufficient personnel for at least one fire engine in the town 24/7.
The second fire engine is crewed by on-call firefighters during the day, if sufficient personnel are available.
Both appliances are crewed at night by a mixture of both full-time and on-call firefighters.
Under the proposals, the second fire engine will be scrapped, half of the full-time posts will be cut and full-time firefighters will only crew the one remaining appliance during weekdays.
Evenings and weekends will be solely reliant upon on-call firefighters.
Our conclusion is that this will extend attendance time to fires and incidents at weekends and fails to guarantee an available crew.
The service’s own statistics show that the availability of an on-call fire engine at Uckfield may only be between 35% (day) to 80% (night).
The service is using the ‘statistical’ reason of ‘under-use’ of these fire appliances to scrap them without fully explaining any of the reasons for their lack of operational use to the public.
The main reason is a lack of available ‘on-call’ firefighters.
The table at the end of this article shows ESFRS is trying to recruit on-call firefighters in most rural communities in East Sussex.
Our expert says ESFRS itself has been a major contributor to this issue over recent years by utilising its on-call firefighters to fulfil full-time roles on temporary contracts to plug gaps in full-time crewing, thus rendering them unavailable for their on-call role.
The expert says: “Gaps have been created by the service’s own policies and its failure to adequately identify future staffing requirements and not recruit full-time firefighters for several years as they slashed posts during the austerity measures.”
ESFRS says it will ‘invest in on-call firefighter recruitment’.
However, the recruitment and retention of on-call personnel has been an issue that fire services nationwide have been struggling with for many years and it is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon.
Having two fire engines in the town provides cover for critical incidents in Uckfield and the surrounding villages and allows one to support neighbouring stations at incidents, while still leaving cover in the town.
If both vehicles attend an incident, or separate incidents, a standby fire engine is brought in from another station to provide cover.
If there is no crew for the second fire engine then the next nearest available engine is sent to an incident.
Without this second appliance, the one remaining crew at Uckfield and every other station north of the coast will have to wait for support from the next nearest available station for 100% of incidents such as building fires and road traffic collisions.
The service’s own statistics show a three-fold increase over the last ten years in stand-by moves across the county, including from Uckfield due to its central location.
This occurs when fire appliances are moved to provide emergency cover in other areas due to incidents elsewhere and sometimes require additional moves to “back-fill” each appliance.
In theory, the reduced number of emergency calls across the county should bring about a reduction of required cover moves.
However, reasons for the increase also go unexplained but include non-availability of on-call fire appliances, and more fire appliances required to deal with incidents due to the reduced crewing levels on each fire engine, brought about in the last round of cuts.
Removing the very fire engines that, if crewed, ensure the resilience of the service, will result in the resources of East Sussex undoubtedly being stretched beyond breaking point very soon, whatever the statistics say.
The ESFRS Risk Profile for Uckfield claims that there are “no residential allocations”.
However, townspeople know 1,000 homes are being built at Ridgewood Farm “which is not included as this is a former allocation as part of the old Wealden Core Strategy (February 2013)”.
More than 100 homes have planning permission for land off Mallard Drive and an application for 90 homes at Eastbourne Road is now under consideration by Wealden planners.
Hundreds of new homes
The rejected Wealden Local Plan also means that other sites in Uckfield are being eyed by developers.
The household demographic statistics in the document are based on the 2011 Census, with population estimates up to 2017.
Uckfield is one of several stations that attend incidents in West Sussex due to the neighbouring county’s cuts resulting in an inability to crew fire engines.
West Sussex FRS changed their crewing arrangement to that now being proposed for Day Crewed stations in East Sussex.
Information obtained from WSFRS shows the system is totally flawed.
In the period from 01/12/2018 to 30/11/2019, appliances from East Sussex attended a total of 146 incidents. The following numbers of attendances were made from East Sussex at the following stations:
For the period between 01/12/2018 to 30/11/2019, the average availability of appliances during on-call periods (evenings and weekends) at Haywards Heath, East Grinstead, Burgess Hill and Shoreham fire stations was:
Where is the evidence in the proposals from ESFRS to show how East Sussex can ensure sufficient on-call personnel to provide appliance availability for evenings and weekend when neighbouring parts of West Sussex have consistently failed, having introduced a similar system to the one proposed several years ago?
West Sussex FRS has some guaranteed 24/7 cover in the north of the county at Crawley and Horsham.
East Sussex will have none.
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service (ESFRS) propose to cut ten fire engines from its existing total of 36 (maxicab count as two pumps)
- ESFRS propose scrapping the Day Crewed duty system at Uckfield, Lewes, Crowborough, Newhaven, Bexhill and Battle which was designed to guarantee at least one available fire engine at each station.
- ESFRS propose the replacing the full-time Day Crewing system (on call at night) with a full-time Day Duty system, weekdays only (no on-call cover at night) at these stations.
- ESFRS propose to crew the one remaining fire engine at the current Day Crewed stations with on-call firefighters overnight and at weekends.
- ESFRS propose to cut 30 – 36 full-time firefighter posts from the six ‘day crewed’ fire stations.
- ESFRS propose ensuring the availability of a minimum of 18 fire engines each day by making on-call stations at Heathfield, Hailsham, Seaford and Rye available (on call) 24/7.
- ESFRS propose allowing six on call stations up to 30 minutes to deploy for ‘resilience’ purposes.
- ESFRS propose the formation of a ‘flexible crewing pool’ to cover shortages.
- ESFRS propose investment in the recruitment of on-call firefighters.
- ESFRS propose placing one additional fire engine in Hastings but share its crew with an aerial appliance. (Net reduction of nine engines)
- ESFRS propose sharing the crew of a fire engine at Eastbourne with an aerial appliance.
- ESFRS want to improve appliance availability of some on call fire engines ‘as far as reasonably practicable’.
Vacancies for on-call firefighters and the days/times they are needed:
Barcombe – All cover considered – priority to weekday day cover and weekend.
Battle – Not recruiting; there is a waiting list
Bexhill – All cover considered
Broad Oak – Day cover
Crowborough – Weekday daytime and weekend cover
Forest Row – All cover considered
Hailsham – Weekend 24-hour cover and weekdays 6am to 6pm
Herstmonceux – Weekday and weekend cover
Lewes – All cover considered
Mayfield – All cover considered
Newhaven – Weekday day cover and weekend all-day cover
Pevensey – Not currently recruiting
Rye – Weekday daytime and weekend cover
Seaford – Daytime cover preferred
Uckfield – Daytime cover a priority
Consultation of the ESFRS proposals is now open. Full details of what is proposed and how to take part in the consultation can be found here.