Inspector slams fire brigade’s 999 cover

WARNINGS from Surrey firefighters that their brigade’s emergency cover is inadequate have been borne out by a government inspector’s report.

The county Fire Brigades Union (FBU) branch said in August that Surrey Fire and Rescue Service had suffered too many cuts to operate effectively.

Now the findings of an inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services supports the union’s claims.

VITAL SERVICE – Several fire crews were sent to tackle a blaze which destroyed a derelict farmhouse at Old Woking last summer

“We have concerns about the performance of Surrey Fire and Rescue Service in keeping people safe and secure,” an inspector’s report says. “In particular, we have serious concerns about the service’s effectiveness and efficiency.”

The report, released at the end of December, continues: “It relies on overtime working to keep fire engines available. This is not sustainable financially and could put crew members and the public at risk.”

The criticism comes at a time when it is common for six or seven of the brigade’s 30 first-attendance fire engines to be unavailable due to staff shortages. The FBU says 168 full-time firefighters have been lost since 2010.

The union’s Surrey secretary, Lee Belsten, told the News & Mail in August: “The service is running on the goodwill of its firefighters and their willingness to do overtime to keep stations available.”

Stations such as Woking, Guildford and Camberley which have two front-line fire engines constantly find they have enough firefighters to crew just one appliance. Other stations, including Staines, Walton and Painshill are often closed because they are short of crew members.

The report also says: “The service requires improvement in the way it responds to fires and other emergencies. It has reduced its workforce over time but has not adjusted its way of working accordingly.”

There is concern the brigade does not have a plan to ensure it can go on providing services in the way it does now, as it continues to make budget cuts required by Surrey County Council up to 2021.

For the full story, get the News & Mail 3 January edition.

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