Fire service bosses postpone vote on 'dangerous' three-person crew policy

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service has postponed a vote on "dangerous" proposals to slash crew numbers after firefighters rallied in protest.

Firefighters gathered outside the fire authority's Bootle headquarters yesterday ahead of a vote on reducing crew sizes to three per fire engine in "non-life risk" incidents. The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said a minimum number of five firefighters is needed to respond to incidents, particularly in cases where breathing apparatus is required. A fire engine with just three firefighters onboard cannot deploy breathing apparatus, and must wait for back-up to arrive to do so, they said.

FBU representatives, including general secretary Matt Wrack, attended yesterday's meeting to voice their opposition. They also objected to the Community Risk Management Plan, which outlined the removal of watch managers from fire engines and reintroducing "small fires units" which the union said will put firefighters at greater risk.

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The vote was postponed, and the proposals will be discussed at the next fire authority meeting, which will take place after the General Election.

Ian Hibbert, Merseyside FBU brigade secretary, said: “Merseyside firefighters are proud to stand for public and firefighter safety. By rallying outside the fire authority meeting today, we made the strength of our commitment clear. Saving lives and homes is our priority, and we will fight against any downgrading of our service.

“If the fire authority brings this to a vote again, we will mobilise in even greater numbers to ensure this policy does not pass.”

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters everywhere will welcome Merseyside fire authority’s decision not to vote on this dangerous policy. The safe and professional standard is five firefighters to an engine. Sending crews of three to an incident puts lives on the line.

“Merseyside firefighters rallied together, making it loud and clear that they will not accept this threat to firefighter and public safety. Instead of risking lives by cutting corners, we need urgent investment in our fire services."

A Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said: "It is misleading to the public to suggest that the service intends to respond to house fires and other such life risk incidents with three firefighters.

"This is absolutely not the case – our plan clearly states that we will not send frontline fire engines with three firefighters to life risk incidents. It goes on to say our response model will remain as previously detailed in our 2021/24 Integrated Risk Management Plan.

"We have been clear throughout the consultation process however, that should a firefighter become unavailable due to last minute sickness or emergency leave we will keep that fire engine available for low level incidents - redefining it as a small incident unit until we have moved/detached staff into the station to enable it to be deployed to life risk incidents again.

"What we are proposing actually protects our ‘life risk’ response because it avoids sending a frontline fire engine with four or five firefighters from a neighbouring area to deal with a low-level incident such as a person locked out or to gain entry for the ambulance service - which would leave two station areas without a frontline fire engine with which to respond should a life risk incident occur - this is totally unacceptable and avoidable, and despite the service adjusting its resources accordingly it would undoubtedly lead to a slower response to ‘life risk’ incidents – where seconds can cost lives."

They added: "As indicated at the authority meeting yesterday, the community risk management plans will be discussed in the coming weeks. Where the Fire and Rescue Authority will consider all proposals including any that can improve our response times to incidents across Merseyside. The safety of the public is of the utmost importance."

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