THE RIDGE fire station will be downgraded with the loss of 20 jobs as part of a cost-cutting measure to save £7.1 million.
It comes just 18 months after the station was saved from being downgraded to retained status.
At a meeting at the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service headquarters in Eastbourne yesterday (Thursday), Fire Authority members were asked to vote on a proposal to introduce a ‘Day Crewed Plus’ duty system to The Ridge Fire Station.
Currently firefighters who are on duty overnight are allowed to go home in the evening. But under the Day Crewed Plus system, on duty firefighters must stay in accommodation at the station.
The proposal, which would lead to a loss of firefighter posts, had been criticised for being ‘anti-social’ , ‘far from family-friendly’ and ‘Victorian’. Some even raised fears that the system could lead to firefighters working 96 hour-long shifts. But the proposal was voted through by Fire Authority members, with 12 votes to six. During the meeting, members also had to choose between a proposal to downgrade Battle Fire Station to retained status (Option 2b), or approve an alternative proposal (Option 2a) to boost cover at Battle but at the expense of The Ridge Fire Station, which would lose its retained fire engine.
The meeting heard an alternative 2a proposal had been put forward by Battle’s firefighters themselves. The alternative 2a suggested that the service could save money by losing the appliance at The Ridge, but instead of increasing the wholetime staff at Battle to 12, use competent retained crew to cover weekends.
Hastings representative cllr Peter Pragnell said: “We should give our thanks to Marc Wise and his team at Battle as they are the only team that produced a practical, cost-effective alternative.” But he added: “But I am uncomfortable with the idea of removing a retained pump from Hastings.” Fire Authority members voted 11 to 7 to approve the amended Option 2a.
Hastings member Cllr Phil Scott, who has been outspoken against any cuts, criticised ESFRS for forcing members to choose between the two towns. Speaking outside the meeting, he said: “I think it’s quite shameful that the two towns have been put against each other. It’s been quite divisive at times in the process. Obviously Battle, at the end of the day, want to make sure they retain their day crewed station and they have adequate cover out in these areas. Clearly there is a strength of feeling by Battle residents that 2a should prevail, but it’s been really divisive and I’m really angry about that.”