Firefighters protest 'dangerous' plans to slash crew numbers to just three per engine

Firefighters picket at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service HQ, Bootle
-Credit: (Image: Andy Teebay)

Firefighters have gathered in protest outside Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service HQ ahead of a vote on reducing crew sizes to, what they call, “dangerous” levels.

The fire authority’s Community Risk Management Plan (CRMP) includes proposals to send firefighters to "non-life risk" incidents with a crew of three on a fire engine.

But the Fire Brigades Union said a minimum of five firefighters is needed to respond to all incidents safely and professionally, 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.

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Ian Hibbert, Merseyside FBU brigade secretary, said: “A crew of just three firefighters is not equipped to safely enter a burning building. Firefighters are calling on all members of Merseyside fire authority to vote against a policy that will put lives on the line.

“A fire that has been reported as non-life threatening can quickly escalate and spread. When people call the fire service, they expect a crew to arrive who can act immediately and save lives. With a crew of three, firefighters would have to wait outside for back up, when every second counts.

“Merseyside fire authority must protect firefighters and the public by rejecting proposals to downgrade our fire service.”

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said it was "misleading to the public to suggest that the service intends to respond to house fires and other such life risk incidents with three firefighters", and that the new plans would protect lives by ensuring front-line crews are not called to low-risk incidents, such as people being locked out of homes.

But the union said firefighters are regularly sent to incidents that have been wrongly described, or become more serious while crews are travelling to the scene, meaning that incidents initially categorised as "non-risk to life" can quickly become life-threatening.

Firefighters picket at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service HQ, Bootle
Firefighters picket at Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service HQ, Bootle -Credit:Andy Teebay

The union has also voiced its opposition to the CRMP outlining the removal of watch managers from fire engines and reintroducing downgraded "small fires units", which they said will put firefighters at greater risk.

Ian said: "There are 15 points on the plan and we broadly agree with most of them, but there are just certain policies that we cannot accept and we have made this opposition clear to the service for months now. What we have said is if they seek to put in place these policies that endanger firefighters and the public, we will fight them with every tool at our disposal."

Fire Brigades Union general secretary Matt Wrack said: “The Fire Brigades Union has made it clear that sending firefighters out in crews of three is dangerous and unacceptable. Firefighters everywhere firmly oppose this life-threatening policy. No fire service should be putting their firefighters in this position.

“We stand in solidarity with all FBU members in Merseyside as they fight for public and firefighter safety.

“We need to be absolutely clear to the councillors on the fire authority: we will not accept this dangerous policy and it must be withdrawn immediately.“

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."

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