More and More Fire Stations are Closing!
Significant budget cuts have been made to the funding of fire services. This troubling funding cut will mean that 1,500 jobs will be lost. The majority of these job losses have come from the firefighters, but the consequences of the budget cuts do not stop there. Many fire stations have also been forced to close. The financial crisis has put many basic social services at risk, however, what are the real risks of cutting funding to fire stations when human lives are at risk?
The job losses across the fire service have been criticised for endangering people’s lives. While the budget cuts have been brutal across the country, in fire stations and centres of all sizes, among the worst hit have been the larger metropolitan areas. Naturally this is troubling, since population density is much greater in these areas.
The West Midlands Fire Service has been one of the areas significantly burdened after the budget cuts, in order to fall in with the necessary savings outlined by the budget cut, they will need to reduce the number of job posts by 300 in the coming four years. Yet some have argued that this number may be closer to 800. While retrenchments may be on the cards, the FRA is also declining to fill posts left by retiring fire fighters.
Another strategy in minimising the loss of jobs has been to freeze wages, to close down fire stations that are operating at a loss, and to combine smaller stations with larger ones. Many old fire engines are also being scrapped to save money. Logically these cuts will mean that fire stations may be less effective in dealing with a call out. Fewer fire stations means that firefighters will have to cover greater distances to respond to calls in their areas, the trouble is of course that a matter of seconds in a fire can literally mean life or death.
According to Lee Howell, who is the Vice President of The Chief Fire Officers Association, the situation is not quite as dire as it might appear. While he acknowledges that some fire stations are operating as efficiently as possible, he believes there is sufficient room for improvement that the cut in personnel will not necessarily negatively affect the public.
However, it can also be argued that many Fire and Rescue Services have spent irresponsibly over the years. For example, a number of Fire Services have wasted thousands of pounds of tax payer funds helping to part-fund expensive lease cars for officer’s. One South East fire service in particular allowed many of their officers to spend up to £25,000 on new lease cars every three years. Whilst this practice has recently ceased, it can be argued that this type of scheme should have never been permitted in the first place.
There have been interesting suggestions from ministers. Such as the need to introduce flexible work structures, to better the methods of kit and necessity procurement. Instead of several fire stations having senior staff, rather share senior staff between a couple of fire-stations. While these may be valid suggestions, the real question is whether they will actually be able to mitigate the further 25% funding cuts that are coming over the course of the next three years.
These cuts will be spread over time in order to give the fire stations time to adjust and in some cases stop operating at a loss. While everything will be done to limit the negative fallout of the budget cuts on the fire stations and on the public, the real consequences will be measured in lives saved and lives lost.