Ilfracombe fire cuts ‘not foregone conclusion’
- Credit: Archant
Busy public meeting debates plans to reduce the town’s fire station to on call only.
CUTS to Ilfracombe fire service are not a forgone conclusion, campaigners have been told.
A public consultation meeting last night (Thursday) at the town junior school, was told guarantees had been given by Devon and Somerset Fire Authority chairman Mark Healy that the voice of communities affected by the proposed cuts would be heard.
More than 60 people turned out to a passionate but orderly meeting to hear a presentation on plans to remove the ‘whole time’ day time crew from the Ilfracombe station and reduce it to on call only.
Chaired by the Mayor, Councillor Lynda Courtnadge, the meeting was addressed by a panel of representatives from the fire service and the Fire Brigades Union.
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It was also announced the consultation period had been extended until next Friday (April 26) and people should submit their comments if they have not already done so.
Almost all in attendance voiced opposition to the plans, many saying they feared lives could be endangered and response times increased if the town lost its permanent day time fire crew.
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There were concerns about recruiting enough retained fire fighters to step into the role, as well as questions over spending £4million on ‘non uniform costs’ and back room staff.
The Ilfracombe cuts are part of a proposed 11-point package of measures across the two counties the service says is necessary to balance the books to meet a £5.5million shortfall ever the next two years after seeing a reduction in its government funding.
Assistant chief fire officer Pete Smith repeated assurances given at a Torquay meeting the previous night, saying there was no ‘foregone conclusion’ and the authority would listen to what the community was saying.
“At the end of the day we will still have to balance the books, but if we can’t do this we will have to look at some of the less palatable things we have rejected,” he said.
“We gave assurances when we put forward these proposals that there would be no station closure or job losses.”
But almost all those in the room raised their hands when FBU chairman Bob Walker asked if they felt the cuts would be unsafe.
FBU secretary revealed that as it was, on several occasions the town had reduced fire cover, including one day last week when from 9am-1pm ‘there was no fire cover in Ilfracombe at all’.
Local fire fighter and FBU member David Butterton added: “At the moment Ilfracombe is not geared up to get rid of whole time – the reality is we will have two fire engines but no firemen there to crew them.
“I just don’t think it is acceptable and it is not spending money where we should be.”
Mike Creek of Ilfracombe Trades Council, said while the retained crews did a wonderful job, they could not possibly get to incidents as quickly as those already on duty at the station.
“Our local fire fighters have given wonderful service to the community over the years – look at all the hotel fires we have had in the town – and we need that service in the future,” he said.
After the meeting, Mr Smith told the gazette it had been a positive meeting, he thought people had been open and honest and hoped they felt they had received honesty in return.
“Quite clearly they expressed their concerns and it’s up to us to take those back through the consultation process to ensure that members of the Fire Authority understand them,” he said.
“But more importantly, if they do get proposals that affect Ilfracombe, that I take those concerns on board and come back in the future to provide the reassurance they will need to go forward.”
The matter will also be debated at Ilfracombe Town Council’s meeting on Monday, May 13, before the council submits its own comments to the fire service.
* The fire service proposals can be viewed and comments left via www.dsfire.gov.uk or call the consultation officer on 01392 872354.