Fears of longer response times to fires and a lack of prevention work have surfaced in anticipation of further cuts to the fire service.
And the public will have to rely on the good will of firefighters who will at times work for free, going against the council’s responsibilty to protect the safety of the people, according to the Labour parliamentary candidate for Mid Sussex.
Under new plans ten firefighter posts could be lost from Haywards Heath, Burgess Hill, East Grinstead and Shoreham, whilst the remaining firefighters will be working a revised crewing model which will see them lose pay for additional hours they work at nights and weekends.
Greg Mountain, Labour parliamentary candidate for Mid Sussex, said: “It’s the protection element I’m concerned about.
“They can’t deliver the same service. Last year they didn’t meet their targets of getting to incidents. If they can’t before the cuts how can they now?
“We all have to face the fact that we may be without cover, we’re relying on the work of retained firemen who are on something like 27p an hour, we’re relying on their good will.”
A spokesman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue said changes will undoubtedly have an impact on the staff that work at these four stations, but have no impact on the public as they will still be providing an immediate response to emergencies during the day Monday-Friday and reverting to retained cover at nights and weekends.
Mick Cambers, Fire Brigades Union representative at Haywards Heath Fire Station, said cuts are changing the way they work.
“We don’t have the extra staff for prevention work, doing things like smoke alarms for the elderly, teaching people how to prevent fires. We aren’t going to do it any more.”
“The government, the fire minister and West Sussex County Council said prevention work is the way forward and they’re taking that ability away by reducing the numbers.”
But the spokesman said prevention work should not be stopped but may be delayed when fire fighters are called to an incident during their prevention work.
“Prevention work will continue, but it will be delivered differently to the way we do it now,” they added.
Mr Cambers is aware of the risk that less fire fighters may ‘increase the danger to the public’ as ‘when there’s less firefighters there’s less fire cover and longer response times’.
“We’re down to the bare bones as it is,” he added.
“The need to save money seems to outweigh the need to have a properly funded and maintained Fire service.
“This can only impact on the service of protection we offer to the people of West Sussex and to this end we will continue to fight these cuts.”
The Labour candidate continued: “I don’t think the public understand what the consequences can be.
“They think fires are a low risk now, they think it doesn’t matter if it takes 15 minutes for a fire engine to get there but 15 minutes can be a life.”
There have also been concerns that fire engines will be crewed by four men rather than five after the cuts.
The FBU representative said: “If we have four in a truck we might need to wait until the next truck arrives, it’s a false economy.”
Mr Mountain added: “It would be dangerous, risking lives of firemen.
“The council needs to tell us how it will work in the future and still meet residents needs.
“We have no full time cover at weekends. The only fully manned station in the east of West Sussex is Crawley. If we need retained firemen from Crawley they will take longer to get there.
“Inevitably the standards of fire protection will be reduced without full time fire cover at weekends in Haywards Heath, East Grinstead and Burgess Hill.
“The people of Mid Sussex should be told clearly how much more risk they face as a result of the Coalition Government’s election bribe of keeping down council tax artificially.”
But the spokesman for West Sussex Fire and Rescue said: “There should still be the same number on fire engines as there are now so no drop in safety standards or increased risk to Ffs,”and “There should be no delays in response times.”