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Bucks firefighters improve response time despite cuts

Budget changes are threatening the service

Published by Scarlett Bawden-Gaul with contributions by Local Democracy Reporters David Tooley and Katie Williams at 5:42am 28th January 2020. 4-minute read.

Bucks firefighters improve response time despite cuts

Buckinghamshire's firefighters have reduced their response times to serious fires. 

Local teams took an average of 9 minutes and 38 seconds to reach primary fires, which are ones with the potential to harm people or cause damage to property.

Total response times for England’s fire and rescue services are measured by the time elapsed between the first call and the arrival of the first vehicle to the incident.

Nationally the average time increased, to 8 minutes and 39 seconds.

Although Bucks response times are decreasing they are still above the national average.

Mick Osborne, explained why their team have seen this decrease:

"It's around how we use our resources more flexibly. Instead of just being based out of a fire station, our resources are moved around.

"And we are in our communities everyday carrying out community safety work so that people don't have fires in the first place.

"The gold standard for us is making sure people have to right equipment in their properties around smoke detection. But sometimes, seconds can be the difference.

"We are suffering significant financial constraints. Fundamentally we do not have enough people or money, however we are still performing to an outstanding degree."

Bucks Fire

Matt Wrack, general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union, says cuts to services have had a "staggering" impact on response times over a number of years.

He said:

“In a fire, a matter of seconds could be the difference between life and death, so these figures are incredibly alarming. Services have been cut to the bone, and it’s obvious that with fewer firefighters and scarcer resources, firefighters are taking longer to get to fires, putting lives and businesses at risk.

“This is just part of the picture. Many services are not properly crewing fire engines, so there is no guarantee that there will be a safe number of firefighters on board when it arrives."

Government inspectors last year told Buckinghamshire and Milton Keynes Fire Authority that a lack of money was hitting the service’s ability to respond to and prevent fires.

New crews

Twenty new firefighters are due to reinforce hard-pressed front-line staff later this year as the fire service juggles with its budgets to stave off “tough decisions”.

20 new firefighters are starting, with the possibility of another 20 later in the year.

This, the meeting heard, should cover those who are leaving, as well as new growth.

Jason Thelwell, the chief fire officer said:

“The fire service is stretched, I don’t think it is sustainable to ask staff to do the level of commitment they do.

“At some point we will get to a position where you will have to make difficult decisions.

“I am determined to keep what we have got in the service because once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Authority chairman Cllr Lesley Clarke OBE (Cons, High Wycombe Abbey), said a cap on council tax increases is the real damage. 

She added that they are writing to the Prime Minister over adding £5 per Band D property per year to their council tax.

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