Protests against a move to slash overnight cover at Ashield Fire Station fell on deaf ears as the Nottinghamshire Fire Authority rubber-stamped plans to introduce a new crewing model that campaigners claim will lead to an “increase in fire-related deaths” across the district.
Holding signs which read I love Ashfield aloft, dozens of protestors from Ashfield Independents turned out to oppose controversial proposals to introduce Mixed Crewing at Ashfield and Retford stations before the crunch meeting at Nottinghamshire Fire HQ on Friday.
In a bid to save £1million, the stormy assembly saw councillors make the “difficult decision” to vote in favour of implementing the new system, which would see night-time cover provided by “retained” firefighters.
The authority also approved a 2.95 per cent increase in Council Tax to help keep the cash-strapped service afloat amidst dwindling funding from Central Government.
Speaking at the meeting, Ashfield District and Nottinghamshire County Independent councillor Jason Zadrozny launched an emotive tirade against the new system which he said would “categorically lead to more deaths”.
Coun Zadrozny, the only member of the Fire Authority to vote against the changes, said: “We’ve been told Mixed Crewing could increase reponse time in Ashfield by five minutes- well, those five minutes could cost lives. This consultation was an absolute sham and the changes being proposed are horrific. Crew cuts belong in the 1980s as a bad haircut. The residents that I represent are being put in danger.”
But the Fire Authority have defended the decision, along with chief fire officer John Buckley who said it was “not a decision he put forward lightly”.
“The alternative could have been redundancies or station closures,” added Chief Buckley.
Brian Grocock, Fire Authority chair and Nottingham City Labour councillor, said: “The decisions made by the Fire Authority today follow on from a lot of work that has been done in recent weeks, months and years to ensure that Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service is a sustainable organisation that is fit for the future.
“The Mixed Crewing model, in particular, is designed to address several issues for us- primarily the need to ensure the resources we have are in line with the demand we now face, following a 40 per cent reduction in the demand on our operational resources over a sustained period of time.
“This new model will also help us provide an alternative working pattern for firefighters who now have to work until they are 60-years-old, and reflects the change in demand between day and night-time.
“We wanted to address these issues without closing fire stations or reducing the number of appliances we have in our fleet, and we hope that utilising the mixed crewing model, a proven crewing system that is in use across the country, will allow us to do this.
“Going forward the Chief Fire Officer John Buckley and his team will be working hard to implement the new system as smoothly and effectively as possible, and will be consulting with all staff that will be affected by the change in the coming weeks.
“The Authority has asked for regular, periodic reviews on the progress and potential impact of the changes to ensure that this is the case.”
Coun Zadrozny also slammed Ashfield MP Gloria De Piero for being absent during the meeting, but “turning up for a photo” beforehand.
He branded the Labour MP’s absence “embarrassing”, but praised Bassetlaw Labour MP John Mann for being “proactive and engaged” in joining the fight to spare Ashfield and Retford from the new crewing model.
Gloria De Piero declined to comment.
The meeting also saw plans to introduce an Alternative Crewing model, which involves retained appliances across the county being sent out with a crew of three to a small number of incident types, given the go ahead.
Fire Bosses said the Alternative Crewing concept is also already in use by other Fire and Rescue Services across the UK – and whie it won’t generate any cost savings, it will”increase retained appliance availability” across the county.
It is anticipated that Mixed Crewing, when fully introduced, will save the Fire Authority around £500,000 per year per station- generating a £1m saving per year in total.
Mixed Crewing at Ashfield and Retford is expected to be in place by April 2019.