LETTER: Lives will be lost in wake of cuts

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If asked what man fears most, the answer could be ‘fire’; not the crackling logs burning in the hearth but the uncontrolled and terrifying flames which can consume a home.

Even the smoke from that sort of fire can kill you in 30 seconds unless you can escape and in a high-rise flat or even in a first-floor bedroom that may not be so easy. Imagine the terror as you wake in the night to the flames and smoke, the smoke-alarm sounding and only seconds to dial 999 for help.

Then imagine waiting what seems like an interminable time before you hear the sirens and you are rescued. That time may well get a lot longer, courtesy of the West Sussex County Council, because they are going ahead with their plan to reduce the number of firefighters and fire engines in the county yet again. Based upon flawed statistics and misleading information this will result in a saving of £1.6 million BUT at what cost to us?

Already, and in spite of bitter opposition, we have witnessed the closure of fire stations in Keymer, Findon and Bosham, together with the loss of all the experienced and dedicated retained firefighters who manned the appliances there.

You do not need to be a genius to work out that attendance times in these areas increase and that a sometimes essential second engine at an incident will take longer to arrive.

In the event of a serious fire with ‘persons reported’ it is vital for at least two crews to work together - a crew of six alone is just not adequate to get rigged in breathing apparatus, get water onto the fire, send radio messages for reinforcements or an ambulance and set up a tally of crew members entering the building - in case they become trapped and don’t return to fresh air within a set time.

I have no doubt that lives will be lost in West Sussex and the cost of property damaged by fire will go up - as will our insurance premiums. There are incontrovertible statistics to prove that lives lost in fires in the county are higher than many surrounding counties, so why would the county council want to add to these figures?

When I was a small boy, firemen carried axes on their belts; ‘Elf and Safety’ don’t allow that now in case someone gets cut (although they are carried in a locker on the engine). In those days, there were many heroic tales of rescues from high ladders and through smoke and flames.

Not now - a fire fighter is not allowed to enter a burning building unless someone is trapped, so they have to stand outside and point their jets into the fire, often adding water-damage to other losses.

There used to be ‘hook-ladders’, so that a fireman could scale a building of almost any height unaided. They, too, were banned courtesy of EEC regulations. When I was a lad I regularly witnessed the first fire engine leave the station within 15 seconds of the alarm bell. Now they are required to dress in their full kit and put on seat-belts before they leave and that can add many valuable minutes to a rescue, sometimes with a fatal outcome.

It is tragic that well-paid councillors can sit in their warm and cosy offices, pontificating about how the nature of fire-fighting has changed and how losing crews and engines will somehow answer the latest challenges to the service. I have seen firefighters in tears because they no longer feel valued or respected.

I have added my name to the West Sussex e-petitions page on this subject ~ I hope you will too.

MICHAEL BISSETT-POWELL

Jarvis Lane, Steyning