Fire Brigades Union

Fire Brigades Union

March 10, 2010 07:00 ET

FBU Leader Tells Council Bosses: Fire Service Cuts Will Cost Lives

Audit Commission proposals "based on ignorance of firefighting"

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND--(Marketwire - March 10, 2010) - Audit Commission proposals for changes in Britain's fire and rescue services "are devised by people who know a lot about balance sheets and nothing at all about fighting fires", the general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, Matt Wrack, said today. And he called on the government to set a baseline national standard for cover which no Fire and Rescue Service can allow itself to fall below.

Speaking to council leaders at the Local Government Conference in Manchester, Mr Wrack was especially scornful of the Audit Commission report Rising to the Challenge, which lays down ways in which the Commission believes the fire service can cut jobs and save money. "If their prescriptions are followed, lives will be lost which could have been saved – including the lives of more firefighters. Reading their report makes a professional firefighter despair. Recommendation after recommendation exposes the public and firefighters to unnecessary dangers, just because the authors have no experience or understanding of what they are talking about."

The FBU today issued a detailed critique of the report, and Mr Wrack gave LGA delegates examples of Audit Commission proposals which he said were based on ignorance and therefore dangerous.

The Audit Commission thinks cuts that it claims have not damaged services in towns are also safe in the countryside. "The problem with this is that if a fire appliance cannot come out from one urban fire station, it can probably be found at another nearby station" he said. "In urban areas this will still cause delay and increase risk but in in rural areas the fire enginemight have to travel 15 or 20 miles, arriving too late to save lives and property."

The Audit Commission thinks that night cover can be cut because fewer fires occur at night. But night fires are often noticed later than daytime fires, and are therefore bigger by the time the fire service arrives. "It is an operational necessity to provide a level of cover at night that is out of proportion to the level of fire cover provided during the day" said Mr Wrack.

A Comprehensive Performance Assessment by the Audit Commission in July 2005 called Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service (HFRS) "fair." In 2006, 2007 and 2009 it described HFRS as improving. Yet just before these inspections, in February 2005, two Hertfordshire firefighters died in a blaze at Harrow Court flats; and in April 2009, the Health and Safety Executive issued an improvement notice to HFRS, because it had failed to do anything about the training on breathing apparatus which was identified as in issue in the Harrow Court investigation. "The Audit Commission was looking at how savagely HFRS was cutting. It was not looking at fire safety" said Mr Wrack.

To prove that cuts can be done without compromising safety, the Audit Commission compares the number of injuries in 2005/5 with those in 2006/7. This glosses over a key fact which any professional firefighter would have spotted. There were fewer fires – but each fire claimed more lives.

"We want to see the government setting a baseline national standard for cover which no Fire and Rescue Service can allow itself to fall below" said Mr Wrack. "We have heard a lot of discussion about cost, and none at all about standards. That puts lives at risk – the lives of our members, and the lives of the public they serve."

The full Fire Brigades Union response to the Audit Commission report, Falling to the Lowest Common Denominator, is attached.

To view the "Audit Commission report, Falling to the Lowest Common Denominator", please visit the following link:

Contact Information

  • Francis Beckett
    020 8349 9194 or 07813 001372