A STORM of controversy has been ignited after the county’s fire authority recommended The Ridge station is downgraded to part-time status.
The Fire Authority yesterday voted in favour of the controversial move pending a consultation period.
If approved, full-time firefighters would be transferred to Bohemia Road station.
The Fire Brigade Union said the move could lead to more fire-related deaths.
A 12-week consultation period will now be carried out with the public and a final decision made at the next Fire Authority meeting on December 13.
Councillor John Livings, who chaired the East Sussex Fire Authority, meeting said: “The community expectations and financial pressures on the Fire Authority mean we must continuously review the service we deliver to meet future needs.
“The authority is committed to allocating resources and delivering services that are tailored to our communities’ needs in order to increase efficiency and deliver value for money.
“The purpose of the review and subsequent public consultation is to determine whether there are any alternative arrangements or methods of service delivery to meet prioritised, changed and emerging needs and communities’ expectations of the service in the medium term. All views will be carefully considered and taken into account before any final decisions are taken in December.”
The FBU has slammed the authority claiming it has not been invited to any consultation on the plans.
Last November it set up a working party ready for involvement in the review.
Angry firefighters and residents have contacted the Observer this week to voice their concerns.
One firefighter, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “As a firefighter, I am very concerned that these cuts will result in greater property damage, injury and potentially the loss of life.
“A fire doubles in size every minute it is left untackled, so waiting a further five minutes for a fire appliance to arrive is going to result in more serious fires.”
Local resident Phil Bailey, who lives in nearby Ticehurst Close, organised a demonstration outside the meeting in Eastbourne yesterday.
The 24-year-old has set up a Save The Ridge Fire Station campaign and already has almost 900 supporters on Facebook.
He said: “Its a disgraceful situation and one we won’t accept.
“There is a huge groundswell of opinion here. I already have huge support on our Facebook site.
“We are 3.5 miles from Bohemia Road.
“That’s extra time that will could put lives, property, schools, businesses and care homes at risk. It is totally unacceptable.
“Other than cost-cutting I can see no reason why this is happening. What price can you put on life? There is going to be a lot of opposition to this and we will fight it all the way.”
The FBU submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Fire Service.
This revealed around 1,900 households in the most socially deprived areas of Hastings would be significantly affected in terms of the response times.
Union spokesman Simon Herbert said: “Fire deaths within the county during the last 12 months have significantly risen and further increases will only lead to further deaths.
These proposals which will increase attendance times and distances to the 1 900 properties will also put firefighters at greater risk, as they will be dealing with a far more serious and protracted incident when they finally arrive.
“The population of the Hastings area is expanding year on year, especially in the socially deprived areas and it is the opinion of the FBU that any proposal that would lead to a reduced service to the public. This is in terms of increased attendance times and distances which would put the public at greater risk.
“It is well documented that social deprivation and fire go hand in hand and therefore the most vulnerable in our society including the elderly, children and lowest paid will be put at the greatest risk if these planned proposals go ahead.”
Deputy chief fire officer Gary Walsh said: “What is eventually decided will only be done with the priority of ensuring we continue to provide an operational response in Hastings in line with our current service standards and target response times.
“There will be no drop in standards and safety will not be compromised, either for the public or for our firefighters.
“The thoughts and views of all of our recognised trade unions and representative bodies, our staff and the public, especially the people of Hastings, are important to us. Everyone who wants to will have the opportunity to comment and share their views, helping us shape the services we provide now and in the future.”
Councillor Phil Scott, who sits on the Fire Authority, and voted against the proposal, said: “I’m naturally disappointed that the authority agreed this position as it could mean a downgrading of the Ridge Fire Station in the future.
“ I believe that position is not an acceptable one to the communities it currently serves, I voted against but unfortunately was a voice in the wilderness.”
Ore councillor Michael Wincott added: “I appreciate that money is tight but the safety of residents takes precedence over these quick-fix solutions.
“Even if the town retains all fire appliances and they are all located at Bohemia Road - the extra time taken to get to our area means we are all being put at risk. It doesn’t taken long for fire to spread and every minute counts.”
Residents can register their views:
By calling the Community Risk Management Team on 0303 999 1000.
By completing the online consultation questionnaire provided on the www.esfrs.org website.
By printing the Word version of the consultation questionnaire, completing and returning to the address provided.
By emailing comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information visit www.esfrs.org