AN urgent public meeting called to discuss proposed cuts to Ilfracombe s fire service was virtually unanimous in a determination to fight tooth and nail to keep nine fire fighter posts in the town. The meeting at the Junior School hall was swiftly convene
AN urgent public meeting called to discuss proposed cuts to Ilfracombe's fire service was virtually unanimous in a determination to fight tooth and nail to keep nine fire fighter posts in the town.The meeting at the Junior School hall was swiftly convened by Ilfracombe Town Council and attended by the region's Chief Fire Officer, Paul Young, who laid out the bleak choices facing him and the 25 members of the Devon and Somerset Fire Authority who will make their final decision on February 15.Simply put, he said, it was all down to money - Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service did not have enough, so something had to give and difficult choices needed to be made.The Authority - comprising councillors from both counties -will vote on a package of cuts affecting Ilfracombe, Exmouth, Paignton and Plympton, in a bid to staunch a £900,000 deficit.To save £344,000 it proposes to strip Ilfracombe of the nine full-time daytime crew members who man the station from 9am-6pm Monday to Friday and change it to a part- time retained status.Critics fear this will endanger lives, as time is lost while retained crews - most of whom work during the day - make their way to the station.Mr Young said the service income came from a Government grant, which was not enough, and Council Tax, also inadequate since the Government insisted on a cap of five per cent."If they restrict the amount of money, it restricts what we have available to spend," he said. He said they had met with ministers and civil servants to lodge an appeal, but would not know the outcome until the end of this month."My colleagues and I are as passionate about the service as any of the fire fighters in Devon and Somerset," he continued."I am not in the business wanting to see cuts, but at the end of the day I can only deliver a service if I am given enough money."It was revealed at the meeting that the successful campaign last summer to save the aerial platform cover in Barnstaple had led to the latest proposed cuts.Mike Creek of Ilfracombe Trades' Council said if there was a blaze at nearby flats in Oxford Grove at 11am on a weekday, the full-time crew could be there in 10 minutes or less."If we have the same scenario next year and we've lost our unit, it's down to the retained," he said."Don't get me wrong, they do a wonderful job in the town and we thank them for it, but the reality is most of them work, they have to get to the station and you lose five, six, seven minutes - a long time when your flat is on fire."And Mr Young admitted: "I would not deny you would get a slower response on a weekday at 11am."North Devon MP Nick Harvey was also in attendance and praised Mr Young for coming to the meeting in the midst of such a difficult time."But we really need to turn up the heat on this," he said."What strikes me is the geography. Ilfracombe is far removed from the other three - sitting and watching those awful pictures from Newquay, a shudder went down my spine because it's so similar to Ilfracombe."If cuts are made I think this town would be the worst affected."There were several passionate appeals from the town's fire fighters, both retained and full time.Trevor French, secretary of the South West Fire Brigades' Union and an Ilfracombe fire fighter, said despite assurances from the fire service, if cuts went ahead there would not be enough daytime cover."If you look at the records of the retained numbers who turn out between 9-6, they will struggle to crew two appliances, that's fact," he said."Saving £340,000? The rest of us will still be in the fire service, our wages will be paid, so I don't know where the money is coming from."Watch Manager Barry Webb, one of those whose post is at risk, said for 20 years he had also been a retained fire fighter, as were most of the Ilfracombe watch."I am very proud of the support I have given throughout my career for the retained," he said."That's a fundamental reason to keep day cover - we support the retained and as a result the majority of large fires in this town have been dealt with quickly."The bottom line is the service is under-funded. I am not here to criticise the chief, but think we need to look closer at the resources we have in the county."At the end of the evening, following a motion by Mr Creek of Ilfracombe Trades Council, it was agreed to oppose the cuts and call on all 16 Devon and Somerset MPs, plus the fire chief and chairman of the Fire Authority, to meet with the Government and resolve the issue.The cuts are still subject to a consultation period and the Mayor, Cllr John Swan, called on as many people as possible to make their voices heard in the days ahead:"Every letter they receive will be read and carry as much weight as anything they get from us. So please take the time to put pen to paper or get online to give as much time as you possibly can to filling out these questionnaires," he said."It's about getting a campaign going. We are a small community compared with the other towns facing these cuts."In numerical terms we have a difficult battle here."For more information about the proposals and an opportunity to comment, contact the authority on (01392) 872354By Email: ConsultationOfficer@dsfire.gov.ukBy Post: DSFRS, Fire Service Headquarters, The Knowle, Clyst St George, Exeter, EX3 0NWThe closing date for comment is 4 February 2008.Views of readersLog on to www.northdevongazette.co.uk to register your protest.Here are some views of readers who have done just that:"With the number of fires and the likelihood of more in so many old and disused hotels, it's madness to reduce the operations at Ilfracombe from full-time to retained fire fighters only - and the fire brigade can tell us all they like that this will not endanger the public, but it's hard to see how reducing staffing levels can bring about anything but a reduction in the quality of service in the area." - Amanda Lovelock, Barton Tors, Ilfracombe."With the old Victorian buildings in the town, it is essential that we have full fire cover at all times. Also, Ilfracombe covers the larger hotels in Woolacombe. We cannot wait for appliances to come from Barnstaple, or for retained men to get to the station - time saves lives." - Barbara Clarke, St Brannocks House Hotel."Who in their right mind would axe jobs that could save many lives during the course of any one year?" - Pauline Brennan, Ilfracombe."Safety is a 24-hour-a-day business. We have had several big fires in Ilfracombe recently, which could have been worse if there had been fewer fire fighters." - John Pearson, Ilfracombe."I am horrified at the thought of losing such a much valued and essential service from Ilfracombe." - Christine Clark, Ilfracombe."With all the serious fires we have had in this area (including several hotelsâ, I should hate to think the strength of our fire service was being cut. Also, in addition to actual fires, our firemen locally are working tremendously hard in the community to educate householders in fire prevention and safety in the home." - Mrs Anne Rumak, Ilfracombe.