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Trial of reduced crew numbers for on-call firefighters set to be extended in Staffordshire

A trial of reduced crew numbers for on-call firefighters is set to be extended in Staffordshire.


Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service began piloting the scheme, which reduces the minimum crew for a retained appliance from four to three firefighters, last year.

Safety concerns have been raised by a number of councillors however – and representatives of the Fire Brigades Union have spoken out about the proposals. But at the latest Police, Fire and Crime Panel meeting Staffordshire’s Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner Ben Adams said the trial is going “extremely positively”.

He added that no safety concerns have been reported. He said: “The service has a really rigorous formal process for reporting safety concerns when you’re out on an incident; if there had been one, there would have been a report on it.

“Nationally, the Fire Brigades Union do not like this. Nationally their stated position is they will never like it.

“Locally, their members support it. I would appreciate if people who are lobbying on this gave a balanced view so that people could make a decision that is informed, not misinformed.

“I am absolutely sure, if we asked the public ‘do you think it’s a good idea these teams are attending’, they would say yes, providing it’s safe. It means availability is improved and the capability, the experience, the job satisfaction, the reason to be and stay an on-call firefighter is greatly enhanced by being out doing the work.”

But Stoke-on-Trent City Councillor David Williams said: “I note the comments about the FBU lobbying Government – they’re quite right to do so because we’ve lost 12,000 firefighters since 2010. We certainly need more urgent investment in recruitment and perhaps that’s why we’re having the debate around safe staffing levels 14 years on.

“I think it’s also important to recognise the FBU’s decades of experience, which can’t be brushed under the carpet here. The report says in general on-call teams feel safe – but then a couple of paragraphs later it goes on to say ‘many on-call firefighters have not yet experienced being mobilised as a crew of three.’

“It seems a little bit early in the day to make the statements that on-call teams feel safe. I think it would also be useful for panel members to see more detail and reports moving forward.

“It also says in the report that communities expect firefighters to attend as quickly as possible. Absolutely right they do, but I think residents across the county and city also expect firefighters not to put their safety at risk.”

Councillor Charlotte Atkins, referring to a meeting attended by Mr Adams in the Staffordshire Moorlands, said: “When you were questioned at Staffordshire Moorlands, you were being questioned by a retired firefighter. The reason he was very concerned about three-person crews is because he understands the motivation of firefighters.

“If they see people in danger, they will go in even though perhaps, for their own safety, they should hold back and wait for back-up. I think he’s concerned that if this becomes a more general operational model, firefighters will go in because that’s their motivation; to tell a three-person crew that they have to wait probably doesn’t work tremendously well when you have got people who are very determined to save lives.”

A report containing data, feedback and options for next steps was considered by the service in December – six months after the trial began. A report to the Police, Fire and Crime Panel said: “In addition to the staff feedback, the data clearly shows an improvement in our response times of circa nine minutes and 45 seconds ahead of the next fully-crewed appliance and therefore an improvement to the service that is being provided to the community.”

A proposal to extend the trial for another 12 months, until the end of 2024, has been backed by the service. But it was also agreed that the public would need to be consulted before a final decision was made on whether to make the working practice a permanent one.

Mr Adams said: “Part of the consultation is looking to increase some of the things they might go to – motorway incidents and prison incidents and wider expansion of it.

“Locally, 555 incidents have been attended by retained firefighters that would not otherwise have been attended. That’s 342 incidents and 213 standbys; that is when they move an appliance from one place to another to back up a higher-risk deployment.

“Stepping back to the end of January, that’s 94 building fires, 65 road traffic accidents, 58 automatic fire alarms, 33 fires in rural areas, 17 vehicle fires and 18 incidents involving animals that would not have had the benefit of those teams’ attendance, either as the first appliance, or the second or third, contributing to the safety of their colleagues and managing the incident in partnership with them. There’s been considerable consultation with everybody involved.

“One of the reasons we want to roll the trial some degree further is to make sure those who’ve not yet been called out as a three get to contribute to the consultation as well. And there will be an opportunity for the public to comment during the consultation on the safety plan.”

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