26th Jun, 2017

Row breaks out between fire service and union over 'cuts to crew numbers'

A ROW has broken out between Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service (HWFRS) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) over the size of crews.

The FBU claims cutting crews from five firefighters to four could cost lives in the service but HWFRS responded by saying – following a meeting in 2014 – four was the original number and only six of the 27 engines were increased to five. That move, they say was a temporary measure.

The decision to have only four firefighters per crew was rubber-stamped by HWFRS on Wednesday.

Steven Gould, secretary of the FBU in Hereford and Worcester, described the move as ‘astounding’, saying firefighters would be working in ‘much more dangerous circumstances’.

“A crew of four not only puts firefighters at greater risk but also the public.

“You need five firefighters in a crew in order to carry out safety critical jobs.

“Anything less and it means we cannot properly prepare for either firefighting or rescue operations.

“There is a real possibility a crew of four turn out to a house fire but cannot affect any rescues until backup arrives.”

He added it would leave firefighters facing a huge moral dilemma and, although in most cases they would step in, it was ‘a very dangerous and hazardous way of working’.

“They either break protocol and begin rescue operations without the right support, for which they increase the risk of being seriously injured themselves, or they wait for backup and hope the victims can hang on.

“There will be casualties as a result.”

A Hereford and Worcester Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: “Whilst riding with five firefighters provides Incident Commanders with an additional crew member at the start of any incident, there is no operational imperative to continue to support this approach.”

He added to continue with five firefighters per crew would cost an extra £400,000 per year.

“Furthermore, for every house fire we mobilise at least two fire engines and nearly 44 per cent of all appliances responding to an incident from April last year until today were staffed with a crew of four.

“Keeping our staff and our community safe is vital to the Service and at the forefront of all decision making.

“Crewing fire engines with four firefighters is considered safe and the safety of firefighters is very much dependent on their equipment, their training and procedures and, very importantly, the command and control exercised by their leaders at an incident.

“The Service is currently reviewing crewing systems and exploring options for increased future resilience.”

The FBU also claimed the fire service was ‘still sitting on reserves in excess of £6.6million’.