Uckfield fire station should not suffer cuts to equipment and firefighters.
That was the verdict of Uckfield town councillors who discussed the planned reductions last night (June 1) when they called for the proposals to be dropped.
East Sussex Fire Authority is consulting over plans which include removing one of Uckfield’s two fire engines and reducing the number of firefighters.
Under the proposals, ‘on-call’ firefighters would crew the remaining appliance at weekends and at night.
Members of the town council’s general purposes committee agreed at last night’s meeting to demand the fire authority drops all the proposals to make reductions – part of wider plans published by the fire authority – which are out for public consultation until June 19.
Councillors also criticised the authority for going ahead with the consultation at a time of global pandemic and lockdown when public meetings could not be held.
Eliot Parry, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) East Sussex branch secretary, told the meeting response to incidents at a weekend would be “heavily impacted”.
He said: “The Fire Brigades Union believes these cuts will cost lives.
“There is no requirement for the fire and rescue service to make any cuts at present.”
‘Dangerous to the community’
Mr Parry said the union believed the consultation proposals were “inaccurate” and “over complicated”.
He urged the council to reject the proposals, saying the FBU believed the proposals were dangerous to the community.
Firefighters, he said, felt let down by the fire authority and the chief fire officer.
Cllr Donna French said the country was in “unprecedented times and there could not be a proper consultation while we are going through the Covid-19 pandemic”.
Cllr Karen Bedwell said it was not the time to reduce the fire and rescue service when housebuilding was adding to the population of Uckfield and the whole of Wealden.
She said Uckfield Town Council had to speak out against the cuts.
Cllr Duncan Bennett said if there was a large fire in the area, crews and appliances were brought it from other counties, such as West Sussex, Surrey and Kent.
“If we reduce our provision of fire services in East Sussex, it probably means it will be more likely that we will have to rely on services from other counties.
“I would love to know whether the chairman of the fire authority has put the consultation out to the residents of the other counties who are taxpayers who would have to cover the slack created by the cuts caused by our own county.”
He believed it was disingenuous to expect the taxpayers of other counties to pay for the savings being made in East Sussex.
“I think it is a non-starter,” he said.
Cllr Ben Cox, who made written proposals to the committee – see our report from yesterday – said the cuts would inevitably lead to a loss of experienced firefighters which would have a detrimental effect.
Cllr Paul Sparks, who served in the past for eight years on the fire authority, believed the proposals were financially driven.
It was his understanding that the fire authority received a government grant of £15m in 2010. In 2020 it would be £3m.
He said the fire authority’s portion of his council tax was the smallest out of East Sussex County Council, Wealden District Council, Uckfield Town Council and Sussex Police.
Residents should appreciate the value of the fire service, he said, and “be prepared to pay more towards it”.
Cllr Diane Ward pointed out police cuts had been reversed and ambulance stations closed.
“It can take 20 minutes or sometimes longer for an ambulance to respond to a cardiac arrest.
“Please don’t let us go down the same route with our fire service. We cannot do that,” she said.
Cllr Ward and other councillors pointed out the extra dangers caused by fires on the Ashdown Forest.
“My understanding is that a school, a hospital, a nursing home needs to have two appliances sent to them straight away.
“We have a hospital, we have lots of schools, we have lots of nursing homes or assisted living properties in Uckfield.
“We also have the industrial estate which would need two appliances.”
Cllr Ward said the fire cuts should not be allowed to happen, adding:
“People’s lives are worth more than a few cutbacks.”
Cllr Angie Smith said a “key value” of the fire authority was accountability.
“I don’t think bringing this report and consultation out during this period makes the fire service accountable.
“I think there is clearly a financial motivation.
“It is evident if you read between the lines of the report.”
She said the public needed a genuine opportunity to read, digest and understand the consequences of this report.
Deputy town mayor, Cllr Jackie Love, said the proposals “scared” her.
The current arrangements work and helped keep people safe, she said.
“This service is needed, as it is now,” she said.
She said the council should call on the fire authority to immediately drop all and any proposals to make cuts at a time of uncertainty and there was a need to assess the future needs of communities as housebuilding was set to increase.
“To make these cuts now is wrong. We have to say no,” she said.
The general purposes committee agreed to call on the fire authority to drop the proposals and demanded a comprehensive risk assessment of all fire services in the South East to establish the capacity for East Sussex.
In addition, the councillors said modelling should be provided on the effect of bush fires on the capacity of Uckfield fire station and demanded a full explanation for the proposed cuts.
East Sussex Fire Authority says there is significant uncertainty about its funding beyond 2020/21 with the Government planning to review how much it spends on public services.
Detailed proposals and information on how to take part in the consultation can be found on the ESFRS website.
Read more about planned cuts to the service in previous Uckfield News stories:
Find local businesses in our Uckfield Directory