Firefighters union 'running out of patience' with Herts County Council
PUBLISHED: 12:07 18 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:07 18 July 2019
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has said it is "running out of patience" with Hertfordshire County Council, after it voted again in favour of cuts to crews from five to four on Tuesday (July 16).
Hertfordshire FBU chair, Derek MacLeod, said trust is beginning to break down between the HCC and firefighters in the county.
"We are running out of patience and will soon want to do something about it," he said.
Mr MacLeod was responding after a motion opposing the plans, by Labour county Cllr for Stevenage Joshua Bennett-Lovell, was rejected by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives at full council.
"We are going to continue to oppose these cuts as best as we can," Cllr Bennett-Lovell said after the vote.
The cuts are part of a package of plans for the future of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, known as the IRMP, and include service reductions and a trial roll-out of smaller vehicles.
When voting in favour of the IRMP, Cllr John Hale for St Albans said he lent his support when the document was revised and objected to any monetary cuts to the service.
"A well-resourced, fully trained and properly equipped Fire and Rescue Service is vital to the well-being of residents and visitors to our county," he said.
But for the FBU, which has rejected the IRMP due to the trial of smaller vehicles and reduced fire crews, it is a potential risk.
Mr MacLeod said the plans to reduce crews to four will have an impact on the safety of firefighters and people in Hertfordshire as it means they will spend longer at fires.
But a HCC spokesman said this will not be the case.
"We will continue to relieve crews at appropriate times based upon the incident that they are attending, and we plan our reliefs based upon the number of staff and the pieces of equipment that we need," he said.
The Herts FBU chair said firefighters are already stretched as it is given the recent example of the Warner Brothers fire - which took 15 hours to put out and needed help from other counties.
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"Crews from Hertfordshire also regularly help out neighbouring Fire and Rescue Services when assistance is requested, and Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service is in fact a net provider - we support our neighbours considerably more than we call on them for support," a HCC spokesman said.
Mr Macleod said current working practices are also unacceptable stating that in Potters Bar, firefighters work 96/120 hours shifts.
"Fireighters and being texted to come into work on their days off currently," he said.
"We come into work praying nothing terrible will happen."
The HCC maintains these working arrangements are based on collective agreements.
"Staff at Potters Bar work a self-rostering pattern that allows them to choose to work up to 120 hours involving a five-day shift with 12 hours in the fire station actively working followed by 12 hours in accommodation close by, during which they are stood down and are only required respond to emergencies," a spokesman said.
Potters Bar, Rickmansworth and Baldock and Letchworth Fire Stations all work in these patterns.
When asked whether they will consider industrial action in the face of the approval of the IRMP, Mr MacLeod responded:
"Nothing has been ruled out at this stage, but we are beginning down the road to a break down of trust."
Given this response, the newspaper asked the HCC to respond to what steps it would take to get the FBU's confidence back.
The HCC's chief fire officer, Darryl Keen, said they are responding to the change in fire and road traffic collisions they are seeing.
"We have taken on board the concerns raised to us by staff and the public around some of the proposals.
"Of course, the welfare of our residents and firefighters has always been our number one priority, which is why we would not introduce any new measures without a full and thorough assessment.
"We are confident that these proposals will provide a foundation for a longer-term approach to mitigating risks in the county while delivering an innovative and modern fire service which is able to respond to aspects such as climate change and development across Hertfordshire."